All-Star balloting 2010 is almost here

All-Star balloting 2010 is almost here

Step 1: Spring Training.

Step 2: Opening Day.

Step 3: Launch All-Star ballot.

It's about time for the third of those customary and shared rituals to get under way around Major League Baseball. Today will bring the announcement that fans can begin voting for the players most deserving of going to the 81st All-Star Game on July 13 in Anaheim. The balloting campaign will be formally announced during a news conference at Angel Stadium beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 PT. The news conference can be seen live on MLB.com and AngelsBaseball.com.

Fans will be able to cast up to 25 ballots per e-mail address to help choose starters through the 2010 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. While fan voting has been around longer, this is the 10th year for online All-Star balloting as we know it, and history shows that you will waste no time getting started once you see the live link show up here. This is where it all begins, and traditionally fans are a big part of the story themselves by shattering online voting records and making any necessary "corrections" after weeks of voting updates.

In last year's voting for starting position players, fans submitted 223.5 million votes and 17.8 million ballots online -- both the largest figures recorded in the nine years of online balloting at MLB.com, surpassing the previous records set in 2008. Then as the annual coup de grace you obliterated Final Vote records by casting 68.6 million votes at MLB.com, sending Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Brandon Inge of the Tigers to St. Louis as the 32nd men on their respective All-Star rosters.

Overall, the MLB All-Star Game Balloting program is the largest of its kind in professional sports, combining the influx of votes from those time-honored paper ballots you punch at the ballparks as well as retail ballots and the perpetual online clicks. MLB announced last winter that Firestone, official tire of MLB, will be the official sponsor of in-stadium balloting, and more details about the overall program will be coming when the ballot launches.

Once upon a time this was the province of men like Willie Stargell, George Foster and Gary Carter, players who helped the National League dominate the All-Star Game in the 1970s and '80s. Will a young wave of NL players be selected -- and can they help the NL win for the first time since 1996? Ryan Howard, Garrett Jones and rookie Jason Heyward could be examples.

With this game coming to the Los Angeles market, will the center fielders from both L.A. teams get your vote into the game? Matt Kemp of the Dodgers and Torii Hunter of the Angels figure to show up on your ballot. Whatever the ballot looks like, one thing you can be sure of is that it always will be a tough decision with outfields for both leagues.

Is there going to be a place for Nelson Cruz at this rate? He jumped out to the Major League home run lead after the first couple of weeks with seven dingers, reminding everyone that he was a factor in last year's State Farm Home Run Derby in St. Louis. Will Marlins third baseman Jorge Cantu extend his hot start to become a factor in balloting?

Will the defending World Series champion Yankees be represented mightily as usual? Might they sweep the entire AL infield? Fans will decide, and when you are talking about tens of millions of overall ballots being cast, it is hard to argue that the majority is speaking. At that level of volume, it's the power of the people no matter what the results say.

Will Ichiro Suzuki continue his streak of going to the All-Star Game every year in his career? He has been selected each of his first nine years, parallel to the advent of online All-Star voting in the MLB Advanced Media era after MLB owners unanimously voted to create an entity that centralizes its digital operations. There are many candidates, but if there is a face of online voting for the All-Star Game over this first decade, it is hard to argue against Ichiro.

The first chance to punch ballots at the ballpark will be at the Angels' game Tuesday night. The full schedule of ballpark ballot openings will be announced with the launch.

The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau de Sport, and 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. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow him @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.