NEW YORK -- Jose Bautista found himself at the same restaurant as actor Robert DeNiro during the Blue Jays' night off on Monday in Manhattan before their series at Yankee Stadium, and these days it's a little harder to say which star is more popular.
Bautista is on pace to be Major League Baseball's top overall vote-getter for the second time in the last four years and is well on his way to a fifth consecutive appearance in the All-Star Game. Now that the latest American League and National League balloting updates have just been released, the Blue Jays' outfielder has a message for all those fans who have been clicking his name on the All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian for nearly two months straight.
"It doesn't matter how often or how long it has been happening," Bautista said Tuesday after appearing as the in-studio guest for the weekly "Off the Bat" show airing on MTV2 at 11 ET/PT later in the night. "Getting support from the fans is always something where you feel appreciated. You want to feel appreciated by your fans. You always feel humbled by the support.
"I know it takes a lot of time and effort to vote online and at the stadiums and fill out ballots. So when people pay attention and they're following you, and they're showing that they are by voting for you, it's an unbelievable feeling."
Bautista received 7,454,753 votes in 2011 to become the first Toronto player to lead all vote-getters. In the latest AL update, he leads the Majors with 2,906,878 votes, ahead of Mike Trout of the Angels (2,544,658) and teammate Melky Cabrera (1,454,528) in the race for starting outfielders.
What would really make Bautista happy, though, is not merely to be back in the Midsummer Classic. Last year at Citi Field, he drove in the only run that mattered for the AL, a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning off Patrick Corbin that scored Miguel Cabrera in a 3-0 victory. That win secured home-field advantage in the World Series for the division-rival Red Sox, and what Bautista would love is a chance to do the same for the Blue Jays. He has never appeared in a Major League postseason.
"It's unbelievable -- any way that I can help my team win, I'm going to try to do it," he said of last year's RBI. "If that ends up being us, it's going to be even a better feeling. We're at the top of the division right now, we're hoping to continue to play as well as we have so far and stay with that consistency and stay healthy, and the chance of us playing in the playoffs I know are increasing as time goes by. So if I can help secure our home-field advantage in the playoffs, that would be great."
Led by a healthy Bautista, with a .981 OPS entering Tuesday's series opener at Yankee Stadium, the Blue Jays have held sole possession of first place in the AL East for 26 consecutive days. The last time they were alone in first for that long was in 1993 (June 24 to end of season).
While fans are doing the voting, the guys in uniform are talking about All-Star voting as well. Here's a look at some of the latest conversation around the Majors:
Trout had the early overall lead in balloting before being overtaken by Bautista. In any case, the Angels center fielder is well on his way toward a third consecutive Midsummer Classic appearance. He led off last year's game by doubling on the first pitch from Matt Harvey.
"It's something special; it means a lot," said Trout, who's on another offensive tear with an 11-game hitting streak and batting .305/.394/.582 -- topping the league with a 175 OPS+.
"I'm going out there and playing with some passion and some fun. I've had a lot of fun the last two All-Star Games, so it would be a blast if I went this year."
The best part about the All-Star Game, Trout said, is "just being with all the top players in the league."
If you have been voting for Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, then you definitely aren't alone. He continued to rank fifth in the League, with 537,165 votes -- behind Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, Buster Posey of the Giants, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers and Evan Gattis of the Braves.
"It's cool," Mesoraco said of making the top five again. "I definitely think it's a cool thing. It's not something I think about. It's nice to be recognized, I guess, in that type of aspect with those type of guys."
Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs ranks second among NL first basemen in home runs with 14, trailing the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt (15), and is fifth in RBIs (37). Rizzo is third in on-base percentage (.406), fourth in slugging percentage (.509), and fifth in batting average (.282).
In the last update, Goldschmidt topped the list at that position with 1,291,052 votes, followed by the Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez, the Braves' Freddie Freeman, the Rockies' Justin Morneau, and the Giants' Brandon Belt. What does Rizzo think of not making the top five so far?
"The first basemen in this league, they're all All-Stars," he told MLB.com. "I'll just keep playing my game and not let it affect me."
Clearly, though, Rizzo would like to take part in the All-Star Game if invited.
"If the time comes and I make it, great," he said. "That's one of the things you dream of is being an All-Star. If I make it, it'll be great, and if not, I'll take the time off."
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson was glad to see Goldschmidt bump ahead of Gonzalez, who draws support from a larger Los Angeles market.
"He's consistent through thick and thin," Gibson said of his first baseman. "He's great in his preparation and his decompression. When he gets in a game, he's really good at adjustments. He talks a lot and talks to his teammates a lot. When he goes up for an at-bat, regardless of what he does in his previous at-bat, he's got a game plan and he'll stick with it. He doesn't get too excited when things go good; matter of fact, he makes sure that he doesn't. When things go bad, he doesn't get down too much. He's just a very steady, consistent personality and attitude about it. He just believes that if he continues to be that way that things will work out for us."
It's too early to know whether we might see rookie sensation George Springer of the Astros at Target Field on July 15. But we do know that the club's right fielder is throwing his campaign support behind teammate Jose Altuve, who was selected in 2012 but not last summer.
"I'm going to vote for Jose as many times as they let me," Springer said. For the record, you can submit up to 25 ballots online.
Altuve ranked fifth among AL second basemen in the latest update with 556,343 votes, behind leader Robinson Cano of the Mariners (1,513,052), Ian Kinsler of the Tigers (1,117,345), Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox (1,008,809) and Brian Dozier of the Twins (642,122).
Will Houston's recent winning ways mean a late voting surge?
"I think the Astros have to take more than one player to the All-Star Game this year," Altuve said. "The guys are playing really good and there's more than one guy who deserves to be on the All-Star team."
You can't vote for pitchers (unless it's with the Final Vote), but that doesn't stop the Astros from talking about Dallas Keuchel.
"You look at the season Dallas Keuchel has put together to this point, and if he's not an All-Star, what is?" Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He continues to impress. It's pitch-ability, it's understanding attention to detail, scouting reports, how he's going to get guys out. He's able to make in-game adjustments. It's a joy to watch."
Keuchel's reaction? "It means a lot. It's not something I think about. I think about going out and helping the team."
Bautista's appearance on the "Off the Bat" show was taped at the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan, where he arrived along with his wife and one of their three daughters, venturing off with camera crews for a double-decker tour bus ride. You'll hear Bautista talk more about All-Star balloting, whether he asked for DeNiro's autograph, and what it's like to be in the dugout around the AL East leaders. The half-hour show is executive-produced by David Ortiz of the Red Sox and featured Carlos Gomez of the Brewers and Josh Donaldson of the A's the prior two weeks.
"It was a lot of fun. I was glad to be a part of it," Bautista said. "Anything I can do to support baseball, support MLB and help the game grow in any way possible, I'm going to take the chance and take that opportunity. If I can help in any way I'm always going to be willing to do it."