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Fans face tough choice with Final Vote

Fans face tough Final Vote choices

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The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote is under way now until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday exclusively at MLB.com, and this eighth annual event forces you to choose from a tough field that includes members of each of the past two World Series teams as well as someone who led starter voting virtually every week.

Managers Joe Maddon of the American League and Charlie Manuel of the National League have presented you with their five nominees per league so you can decide the 33rd and final roster spots for the 80th All-Star Game, being held on July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It is the eighth year for this, and it gets better every time.

AL nominees are third baseman Chone Figgins of the Angels, third baseman Brandon Inge of the Tigers, second baseman Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, designated hitter Adam Lind of the Blue Jays and first baseman Carlos Pena of the Rays.

NL nominees are shortstop Cristian Guzman of the Nationals, outfielder Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, third baseman Mark Reynolds of the D-backs, third baseman Pablo Sandoval of the Giants and outfielder Shane Victorino of the Phillies.

The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote follows another record run of balloting by fans to determine the starting lineups, which were announced on TBS along with the rest of the rosters during the 2009 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Pepsi. Fans submitted 223.5 million votes and 17.8 million ballots -- both the largest figures recorded in the nine years of online balloting at MLB.com, surpassing the previous records set in 2008.

Last year, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Brewers outfielder Corey Hart were the final vote winners. Longoria drew a record nine million votes, and Hart eight million. A record total of 47.8 million votes were cast in the 2008 Final Vote. That was more than double the previous year's total of 23.2 million votes.

Fans also can vote again by mobile device -- exclusive in the U.S. to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote mobile ballot text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Standard rate messaging fees also may apply; check with your carrier. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555.

Expect to see a lot of creative grassroots campaigning by the clubs and fans involved, and vote as often as you wish. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly after the voting ends.

Here's a closer look at the candidates:

American League

Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels
The Angels are perennial postseason contenders, and entering Sunday they were tied at the top of the AL West due in no small part to the consistent contributions from Figgins. He is batting .316 with 24 steals, which ranks fifth in the Majors. An on-base machine, Figgins ranks 10th in the Majors in hits with 97, more than any Final Vote candidate.

Figgins said he would be happy to move around to multiple positions for Maddon if fans let him, and he added this about the All-Star Game: "That's center stage. It doesn't get any better. For that one time, to say I was an All-Star, it would be such an honor. I can't even begin to tell you how much that would mean to me."

"Chone has been as good as any leadoff hitter in the league," testified his manager, Mike Scioscia. "He's also playing great defense at third base."

Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers
Inge, still looking for his first All-Star selection, has earned his reputation as one of baseball's best defensive third basemen, and his fielding skill was a big reason behind his return to the hot corner this season in a revamped lineup on a resurgent Tigers team that has been steady atop the AL Central. His 154 assists and 25 double plays topped all AL third basemen entering Sunday, and his regular appearances on highlight reels for his acrobatic plays can't hurt in a balloting battle that lasts just four days.

Yet what has separated this season from many for Inge is his bat, powering a career turnaround at the plate. He has 18 homers and 52 RBIs, both on course for personal bests. Only Longoria and Toronto's Scott Rolen entered Sunday with a higher OPS among AL third basemen than Inge at .868.

"I'm honored to be considered," Inge said. "I'm very happy for my teammates that are going right now. I would love to, and it would be an honor. But I can't control it. I just play as hard as I can and be the person that I am."

His manager, Jim Leyland, said Inge "should at least be Longoria's backup." Inge said more modestly: "You should not worry about things that are out of your control. Play as hard as you can, do what you can, but this is one of those things that's definitely out of my hands. Whatever happens, happens. It's an honor either way."

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers
This has to be considered the shocker of the 2008 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote. Kinsler led virtually the entire way through the starter voting, in the weekly updates at MLB.com. Dustin Pedroia overtook him at the wire to win the fans' vote for the starting job, and then -- he's just gone? It will be up to fans to decide whether he joins outfield starter Josh Hamilton and fellow Rangers infielder Michael Young as a reserve -- or whether Kinsler goes from weekly leader to observer.

Here is the supporting evidence again: The Rangers are still tied for lead in AL West; 19 homers, 51 RBIs, 16 steals and a .500 slugging percentage. The Players Ballot choices were Adam Hill (a reserve) and Kinsler, in that order, with Pedroia not in the top two. Kinsler made it clear that he wants to go, and he said Pedroia unquestionably had an advantage in his market.

"The Final Vote is a little weird but it's cool the fans get a voice," Kinsler said. "There's always someone who is deserving to be in the All-Star Game who misses out. I'm not saying I'm deserving, but to have the fans involved is a good process. It definitely gets fans involved, gets more viewers for the game and creates more attention to baseball. You can't frown about that."

Adam Lind, DH, Blue Jays
Lind was the one Toronto player whose name was noticeably missing on the All-Star ballot this year, and now it will be up to fans here if he gets to St. Louis. The 25-year-old opened the season as Toronto's primary DH, but has been receiving starts in left field since rookie Travis Snider was returned to Triple-A Las Vegas earlier this season. As the projected DH heading into the year, Lind was not eligible for the All-Star ballot, which had Snider's name listed among the AL's outfielders.

That hasn't stopped Lind, though. Through 80 games for the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter was batting .309 with a .384 on-base percentage and a .553 slugging percentage. Lind had produced 17 homers, 25 doubles, 48 runs and 55 RBIs, earning a recent promotion to the third spot in the Blue Jays' lineup.

"It's like being on the bubble for the NCAA tournament," Lind said with a smile after his team's 10-8 loss to the Yankees on Sunday. "I've got a one-in-five chance and hopefully Canada comes out and votes. Hopefully more people vote for this than they did for the Prime Minister."

Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays
Pena enters Sunday night action as the AL's leading home run hitter with 23 and he also leads the league in runs with (58) and walks (54). The question now is whether he can make it two straight Rays Final Vote winners, in the year after teammate Longoria won it. Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek won it while with Boston in 2002 and '03, respectively, and Scott Podsednik and A.J. Pierzynski won it for the White Sox in '05 and '06, respectively.

If Pena is selected by fans, then the Rays' entire infield, amazingly, is on the All-Star team. Longoria, shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Ben Zobrist already are selected.

Pena said he will be "the No. 1 vote giver so I can be the No. 1 vote getter." He added: "I would love to be on the All-Star team, that is the dream of any baseball player, to be part of that ballclub. Hopefully I will be."

National League

Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals
One of the bright spots for Washington this season undoubtedly is the play of Guzman, who was batting .316 through 65 games. He went on a real tear last month during three consecutive Interleague Play series against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox, producing eight multi-hit games and going 20-for-47 during that 10-game stretch.

It would be the third All-Star selection for Guzman, who was chosen in 2001 with Minnesota and then went 0-for-3 off the bench during the NL's 15-inning victory last summer. He would join teammate Ryan Zimmerman, a reserve at third base, if selected.

"I don't care if I go or not go," Guzman said. "I've been there twice already. There are too many people going over there. I want to take my three days off and get ready for the second half. I'm proud of [Zimmerman] because he needed it. He did a good job this year."

Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
Think back to June 16, when Kemp singled in the 10th inning against Oakland to give the Dodgers what then was their Major League-best eighth walk-off win -- and the reaction of a full Dodger Stadium crowd. The Dodgers have celebrated more than any team this season, and he has been a big reason. Kemp is batting .303 with 10 homers, 44 RBIs and 19 steals, meaning he could be a 20-40 man this year.

It is somewhat surprising perhaps that the Dodgers have been baseball's top team almost the entire season yet have only a few reserves so far -- second baseman Orlando Hudson and pitchers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton. Will Kemp be the fourth?

Kemp, only 24, is in his second season as an everyday Major Leaguer. But his five-tool game has forced its way into the lineup as well at center field, displacing both Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, who were signed as free agents to play the position.

"Just to be this close is an honor. A lot of people can't say they came that close," said Kemp, who will be backed by an all-out club campaign, according to the Dodgers. "It's pretty cool. I was a little surprised. It hasn't happened yet, but it would be great to play with [Albert] Pujols and all those guys who are doing big things."

Mark Reynolds, 3B, D-backs
Reynolds will try to join right fielder Justin Upton and pitcher Dan Haren as reserves on the NL team from Arizona. In his third year, Reynolds is continuing a huge Major League progression by going from 17 homers as a rookie to 28 last year to already 23 at this point. He also has 58 RBIs and 13 steals, a fantasy mainstay for many.

He also just blew his top after Arizona's 5-0 loss to Colorado on Saturday, and if you want another way to measure him, consider the passion in his comments calling out his team after that game. "I know I care," he said amid the postgame tirade. "I'm out there busting my tail every night trying to win."

Most of his teammates apparently agreed with him with catcher Chris Snyder saying Reynolds comments were needed and "dead on." Hey, maybe that is the kind of fire the NL needs after losing every year since 1996.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
"I just focus on playing my game," the Venezuelan switch-hitter said after homering twice recently at Milwaukee. "I don't focus on the numbers." That's OK, we are. Sandoval has positively burst upon the scene in his first full season, ranking fourth in the NL in batting with a .333 average and leading the Giants into contention despite the Dodgers' breakaway first half. He also has 12 homers and 44 RBIs.

The Giants' "Kung Fu Panda," just 22, also ranks among the NL top 10 in doubles (23), multi-hit games (30), slugging percentage (.566), extra-base hits (38), hits (93) and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage -- .954). He also entered Saturday leading the Majors with a .393 batting average in two-out situations.

Sandoval, who was playing at high-Class A San Jose a little more than a year ago, said merely being eligible for the Final Vote was "one of the biggest moments of my life." Winning it, he said, would be deeply meaningful, especially given his humble roots in Venezuela. He said he plans on voting for himself, and teammate Matt Cain said he will have huge support from the club.

"We did it with [Aaron] Rowand last year," All-Star right-hander Matt Cain said, referring to the Giants' 2008 Final Vote nominee. "Everybody was like, 'Mandatory text on the bus.' "

Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies
Everyone knows the Flyin' Hawaiian from the last postseason, when he was a key player in the Phillies' run to the World Series title. So the question is, how has he done as an encore to that? Good enough that his manager nominated him for your consideration here. Although his stolen-base numbers are down a bit at the halfway mark (13, compared to a total of 37 in 2007 and 36 in '08), his average and on-base percentages are peaking at .304 and .367. He also has 96 hits, on pace for a career-best.

Victorino will try to join starters Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez and reserve Ryan Howard on the All-Star team. He also will try to become the second Final Vote winner from Philly, following Bobby Abreu in 2004.

"I'm very excited," Victorino said. "I guess I never expected something like this to come. Now we leave it up to the Philly faithful. I think I've got a good chance. I've got faith in the Phillies fans."

Should Victorino and Pena win, it would mark a rematch of the last World Series of sorts. It would mark the first time that both Final Vote winners had played on Fall Classic participants in the previous autumn.

There never has been a second baseman nor shortstop to win a Final Vote. So if fans should select Guzman and Kinsler, that takes care of both of those matters. There never had been a Mariner, Red or Ranger nominated, so Kinsler's selection already has reduced that number to two going forward.

Choose one per league, and choose wisely. Just think what kind of work these players have put in, from offseason workouts to Spring Training exhibitions to the regular-season long-haul. There is no All-Star Game like Major League Baseball's traditional Midsummer Classic, and their fate for this honor now lies in your hands.

The Final Vote was for the 32nd man last year, and this year an extra spot was added on each roster to accommodate a 13th pitcher, so you are voting for the 33rd man this time. The Final Vote composition is always based mainly on the manager's need, knowing what it took to put together the other spots. A year ago at this time, then-NL manager Clint Hurdle summed it up by saying: "Throw this one out to the fans. 'Go pick us a good player.' "

The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote program has seen nearly 140 million votes cast since its inception in 2002. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, in addition to Longoria and Hart, are: Hideki Okajima (AL, '07); Chris Young (NL, '07); Pierzynski (AL, '06); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, '06); Podsednik (AL, '05); Roy Oswalt (NL, '05); Hideki Matsui (AL, '04); Abreu (NL, '04); Varitek (AL, '03); Geoff Jenkins (NL, '03); Damon (AL, '02); and Andruw Jones (NL, '02).

The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. Once again, fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy at the 80th All-Star Game through the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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