Fans, players in sync with All-Star choices
Reserves show great appreciation for player ballot results
Taking a look at the pitchers and reserves set to represent the American and National Leagues in the 80th All-Star Game a week from Tuesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, one thing is abundantly clear.
Baseball fans are smart, and they keep getting smarter.
A review of the player voting and manager's selections that completed the rosters for the Midsummer Classic proved that the people who filled up ballparks and filled out ballots had the right choices in mind when they punched paper.
This was overwhelmingly true in the NL, where seven of the eight starters elected by fans -- first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, third baseman David Wright, and outfielders Raul Ibanez, Ryan Braun and Carlos Beltran -- were the top choices on the player ballot and five of the eight players came from different teams.
And in the AL, the fans got it right, too, with shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Evan Longoria, catcher Joe Mauer and outfielders Jason Bay and Ichiro Suzuki also being first choices on the player balloting and six of eight of the starters coming from different teams.
Meanwhile, all over both leagues, the rest of the All-Stars were as excited to suit up in St. Louis as they were touched by the props from their peers and from the All-Star Game managers, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies and Joe Maddon of the Rays.
"The fans mean everything to this game, but to get voted in from the people you play against day in and day out, you want them to have that utmost respect for you," said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was voted in as an NL reserve in player balloting alongside Braves catcher Brian McCann, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson, Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, and outfielders Brad Hawpe (Colorado Rockies), Justin Upton (D-backs) and Hunter Pence (Astros).
"I'm going to try to do everything I can," Zimmerman continued. "You might not get to do it again. It's a huge honor. I'm going to get my family to come out there. You never know what's going to happen. I'm going to take advantage of it, enjoy myself and have fun."
Tejada, a perennial All-Star when he was with the Oakland A's, will represent the NL for the first time in his decorated career. And Tejada's teammate, the young outfielder Pence, took the humble approach to the honor.
"It is very nice to be picked by the players," Pence said. "To be respected by your peers is something that makes me feel proud. I still feel that there's a lot of people that are just as worthy. It happened to be me, but it feels good."
The NL pitchers chosen by the player ballot exude dominance, including reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, his teammate Matt Cain, Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley and closer Jonathan Broxton, the Mets' dynamic duo of starter Johan Santana and closer Francisco Rodriguez, Florida Marlins righty Josh Johnson and San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell.
"I like our pitching staff," Manuel said. "We've got two left-handed pitchers. I would have liked to have seen a couple back-of-the-bullpen guys who are left-handed, but as it worked out we've got all power right-handed pitchers in the bullpen."
One of the lefty starters, Santana, has pitched every time he has been selected (2005-2007), said he'll probably pitch again, even on what figures to be two days of rest. "If I have to, I'll pitch," Santana said. "The idea is to pitch and help your team." And Rodriguez, a three-time All-Star while with the Angels, says he's ready to go, even more than he has been in the past.
"I pitched a third [of an inning] each time," Rodriguez said of his outings in 2004, 2007 and 2008. "I guess they thought I wasn't good enough to do more."
That won't be the case for Broxton, the burly Dodger who, through Sunday's game, had 64 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings, an average of 14.90 strikeouts per nine innings.
"I think it's a great honor," said Broxton. "I'm only in my third year and to be selected. When there are so many big-name closers who have been around a while, I know I'm having a decent year."
Other decent years are being enjoyed by Manuel's eight selections: first basemen Ryan Howard (Phillies) and Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers), second baseman Freddy Sanchez (Pittsburgh Pirates) and pitchers Francisco Cordero (Cincinnati Reds), Ryan Franklin (Cardinals), Dan Haren (D-backs), Ted Lilly (Cubs) and Jason Marquis (Rockies).
Fielder, one of four first basemen on the roster, said he understood that he might not play very much because hometown hero and Major League home-run leader Pujols is the starter, Gonzalez is second in the league in long balls, and Howard is one of Manuel's own players.
"It doesn't matter, as long as you get to go and enjoy everything," Fielder said. "That's all that matters to me."
The American League position players who will enjoy their St. Louis experiences include the eight player ballot electees, a tantalizing collection of talent that includes catcher Victor Martinez of the Cleveland Indians, first baseman Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, second baseman Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, shortstop Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays, third baseman Michael Young of the Texas Rangers and outfielders Carl Crawford of the Rays, Curtis Granderson of the Detroit Tigers and Torii Hunter of the Los Angeles Angels.
Hill, for example, received 370 votes from his peers, compared to 348 for Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who barely lost the fan vote to starter Dustin Pedroia and ended up on the Final Vote ballot.
"It's extra special -- it definitely is," Hill said of being elected by his fellow big leaguers. "They appreciate what you do on the field, and that's saying that they like the way you play the game. That's all I can ask for, just that they appreciate the way I play the game. And I look forward to talking to the guys when I get there."
Bartlett, a first-time All-Star, agreed.
"It does [mean more]," he said. "At the beginning of the year, my agent and I were just talking about it. He said, 'You know, Joe's going to be the manager.' And I said, 'Yeah, but I want to earn it.' So I think I did. And I'm glad that some players around the league saw that."
On the AL pitching side, the player ballot voted in a formidable staff: starters Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals, Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers teammates Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander and a bullpen with Joe Nathan of the Twins, Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees.
"It's real nice to just get voted in by the players because I feel like I've had some good years until the All-Star break and could never quite get on the team, so it's not easy to do, even if you're doing good," Greinke said. "I thought I'd been pretty close a couple times before and just didn't get it. So I understand how difficult it is to make it."
"It says a lot," added Jackson. "Those guys that you're going out playing hard against, and those guys that compete against you, it shows some respect that they have for you. You're being voted on by hitters that you're pitching against every day. It shows that they tip their hat and they give you respect that you earn."
Several of those hitters were picked by Maddon, who earned the helm of the AL squad by managing the Rays to the World Series last year.
Maddon's picks were outfielder Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, first baseman Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox and infielder Ben Zobrist of the Rays. He also tabbed starters Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and brought aboard relievers Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics and Brian Fuentes of the Angels.
"It just shows you need to keep playing," Jones said. "June wasn't the greatest month for me or the whole team. But I just hung in there and stayed consistent as much as I could. I'm thrilled that Maddon decided to go with me."
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game 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.
And in addition to the wildly popular fan vote for the starters, the player ballot plus the selections of the All-Star Game managers in conjunction with Major League Baseball has proven as successful as ever in determining the best AL and NL teams for the 2009 Midsummer Classic.
Marquis summed up what seemed to be a collective emotion from all the deserving players.
"It's nice sometimes to be recognized for what you do," Marquis said. "It's not the only thing. It's a team game, obviously. That's the most important thing.
"But it's definitely a special time right now."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.