We are ready for the mad rush.
We are entering that Validation Key over and over, submitting our 25 allotted votes in the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot at MLB.com.
We punched those Walt Disney Pictures G-Force All-Star Game paper ballots and left those little chads all over ballparks.
We see the excitement building to what could very well be one -- or two, or three -- of the most exciting finishes ever seen in All-Star balloting. Among the 16 starting positions to be awarded, some appear headed toward unpredictable at-the-wire decisions.
We are still trying to decide between Ian Kinsler of the Rangers and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox at second base, and at this rate, we won't be surprised -- with Kinsler holding an ultra-slim lead of fewer than 7,000 votes -- if it winds up as the closest finish in All-Star Game voting history.
Both have helped their teams into first place for much of this season. We click the "Compare Stats" link on the ballot, and we see Kinsler on top of the league at this position for homers and steals. We see the reigning AL MVP as elite right now. But we also see this breakout season for Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays and another big year for last year's starter, Robinson Cano of the Yankees.
We are still trying to decide between American League first base rivals Mark Teixeira of the Yankees and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, who have exchanged the lead five times, with Youkilis moving 40,047 votes ahead of Teixeira this week. What those two players do in these final days undoubtedly will make a difference.
We are still trying to decide between Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins. Florida's superstar came from behind in the latest voting update, going from 87,000 behind the Phillies' shortstop to a 254,257-vote lead.
We still aren't sure about Yadier Molina of the Cardinals or Brian McCann of the Braves. In fact, we aren't completely sure which Molina brother to go with. Lots of people are supporting Bengie Molina of the Giants, but the Cardinals' backstop had been holding the edge for a hometown start.
We hold the power in these final days to change both starting outfields. The latest update had Jason Bay of the Red Sox, Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners and Josh Hamilton of the Rangers in the AL outfield, but Torii Hunter of the Angels and Carl Crawford of the Rays were well within reach of Hamilton, who has missed the past month due to injury and has seen his lead for the third and final spot narrow to about 145,000.
Raul Ibanez of the Phillies, Braun and Carlos Beltran of the Mets are the latest leaders in the NL outfield, but the voting volume is so enormous that there is an easy chance for upward movement by Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Shane Victorino of the Phillies, both of whom are within striking range.
We will be making our own final judgments, and then once again the majority of people will say: "Fans got it right."
We already had recorded 163 million votes online entering this final week of balloting, representing a 15-percent increase over the comparable 2008 vote total. With millions of votes coming over these last days, we will decide which Major Leaguers become the starting position players.
"With fans casting votes on MLB.com at a record pace, we look forward to a historic and exciting conclusion to this year's All-Star balloting for the elected starters," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president, content, MLB.com. "These close races have been fascinating to watch each week and leave us eagerly anticipating the second leg of online balloting when the final roster spot for each All-Star team will be determined exclusively on MLB.com."
We vote because we want fans to get it right. We vote because our favorite players are the best. We vote because we don't like those other guys. We vote because it is fun. We vote because every year we bump someone into a deserved spot right at the end, as we did with Ryan Braun at the end of last year's All-Star balloting, as we did with Albert Pujols and Hideki Matsui years ago. We vote because it is our chance to demolish baseball records.
We are the All-Star Game voters.
We know it's important, and we aren't through yet.
We will vote until we can't vote anymore, and then we will watch as rosters for each league will be unveiled July 5 on the 2009 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show, televised nationally on TBS. The AL and NL teams each will have eight fan-elected starters. Twenty-three reserves for both squads will be determined through a combination of "Player Ballot" choices and selections made by the two All-Star team managers -- Joe Maddon of the Rays and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies -- in conjunction with MLB.
We will see not only who we collectively settled on as the starters, but also just what kind of voting power we reflected again. It is like no other sports digital interactivity. Last summer, with the majority of the individual races going down to the wire undetermined, fans cast their final votes online at unprecedented rates, including more than 41 million votes in the final 24 hours. That mark was 57 percent higher than the previous single-day record of 26 million set on the final day of online balloting in 2005. Overall during 2008 online balloting, 214.7 million votes from 16.5 million ballots were cast at MLB.com and the club sites, despite having seven fewer days in the voting cycle than in 2007. These record figures each represented increases of nearly 40 percent over the previous marks for total votes and ballots cast.
We know it's not over at that point, either. We get to keep voting after a brief cooldown, because immediately after the announcement of the rosters, we have the opportunity to select the final player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a four-day period. That period is known for phenomenal voting turnout and creative grassroots campaigning on behalf of the 10 candidates. For the fifth year, fans will be able to vote for their Final Vote selections on their mobile phone, exclusive to Sprint subscribers. Both winners will be announced after the voting has concluded on Thursday, July 9.
We don't even stop voting there. During the game itself, we participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game's Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote on MLB.com. So we not only decide the starters and the final roster spots, but we help decide who is the MVP that night at Busch Stadium.
We heard MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy say: "The Major League Baseball All-Star Game Balloting program is one of the great traditions in sports and serves as a powerful way to engage baseball fans around the world. Major League Baseball is delighted that fans once again will determine the Midsummer Classic's starting lineups as we celebrate the 80th All-Star Game in one of America's truly special baseball cities."
We believe it. We are living it. We are typing Validation Key after Validation Key. We will pour on the votes in this final week, just as we have done before, and we probably will make a dramatic difference of some kind in the final 24 hours. We have done it before. We are doing it as you are reading this, and now it is time for you to click the ballot as well.
We, the people, are deciding who goes to the All-Star Game.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.