Major League Baseball fans already have shattered online voting records at MLB.com in deciding starters for the 82nd All-Star Game on July 12 in Phoenix. Now hold onto your seats, because the ballpark ballots are collected and it's all online for the final week.
Entering this always-frenetic finish, fans have cast 18.5 million ballots and 250 million votes, surpassing the all-time online record for each from 2009 (17.7 million; 223.4 million). With millions of votes being cast daily, many of the closest races for the 17 starting position players will be decided at the wire when the 2011 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Sprint closes at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30.
The American League and National League rosters will be unveiled Sunday, July 3, on the 2011 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show, televised nationally on TBS. The pitchers and reserves for both squads -- totaling 25 for the NL and 24 for the AL -- will be determined through a combination of Player Ballot choices and selections made by All-Star managers Bruce Bochy of the Giants (NL) and Ron Washington of the Rangers (AL), in conjunction with MLB.
To further online support opportunities over the final week of starter balloting, fans also can use designated Twitter hashtags to promote and rally votes for their favorite players across each league's tightest races. MLB.com will keep tabs on the identified hashtag usage and provide regular updates from @MLB on which players gain the most from their fans' social-media mobilization efforts and how that may be impacting the final week of online voting at MLB.com and the 30 club sites.
MLB's All-Star balloting program is the largest in sports, and the in-stadium portion of the balloting sponsored by Firestone concluded on Wednesday with the last collections at Busch Stadium and Rangers Ballpark. Now that voting is exclusively online, keep an eye out for last-week leapfrogging, because over the past decade, it has been almost expected, thanks to remarkable balloting volume and a homestretch "correction" mentality.
Last year, Josh Hamilton's torrid June powered him all the way to the top AL outfield spot. In 2009, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox trailed Ian Kinsler of the Rangers by 200,238 votes on June 16 and then passed him at the finish to start in St. Louis. A year earlier, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun went from 10th place in the NL balloting that June 1 to a gradual climb that carried him all the way to No. 2 overall vote-getter in the league.
"It is amazing, it is definitely special," Braun said. "I always say that [the All-Star Game] is one of the few opportunities to reflect on where you're at, or what your accomplishments are. ... I never take it for granted, and it is humbling."
Here are some key races to be decided in the final week:
NL first base: Albert Pujols still led in the latest update with 2,806,864 votes, but his forearm fracture means the Cardinals' star slugger will not play in Phoenix, and it leaves a big question mark here. Behind him are Cincinnati's Joey Votto with 2,270,211 and Milwaukee's Prince Fielder with 2,066,327. Will fans push one or both of them past Pujols in the final week? If not, it means the replacement at starter will be decided by which player other than Pujols finishes highest in the Player Ballot at this position. Hashtags: #VOTEPUJOLS, #VOTEVOTTO and #VOTEPRINCE.
AL first base: Adrian Gonzalez was riding momentum in the latest update, with 3,017,960 votes. Can Mark Teixeira (2,407,655) make a late surge? Hashtags: #VOTEGONZO and #VOTETEX.
NL catcher: Atlanta's Brian McCann, who led the NL to its breakthrough victory last year, had a 2,301,252 to 1,836,490 edge on Yadier Molina of the Cardinals. Hashtags: #VOTEMCCANN and #VOTEYADI.
AL catcher: Detroit's Alex Avila (1,730,511) was quietly closing the gap on Yankees backstop Russell Martin (2,226,797). Will that continue? Hashtags: #VOTEMARTIN and #VOTEAVILA.
NL shortstop: There sure are a lot of people talking about Jose Reyes these days. But will Mets fans transfer all of that talk into votes? Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who last year was unable to get a late push to pass Florida's Hanley Ramirez, was still leading, 2,385,991 to 1,972,820. Again, that is a race edge when considering the last-week voting volume and the history of final moves. No lead like that is safe. Hashtags: #VOTETULO and #VOTEREYES.
AL shortstop: Derek Jeter is close to resuming his march to 3,000 hits. But will his layoff and the Indians' persistent ways have an impact? The Yankees' captain is about 412,000 votes ahead of Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, who was leading all AL shortstops in runs, hits, homers and RBIs. Hashtags: #VOTEJETER and #VOTEAC2AZ.
NL second base: While you're considering that NL first-base race, think about this: It could be an all-Milwaukee or an all-Cincinnati right side of the infield in Phoenix. Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips (2,286,378) was slightly ahead of Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks (2,094,502) in the latest tally. Hashtags: #VOTEDATDUDEBP and #VOTEWEEKS.
AL outfield: Will Hamilton (2,400,408) of the Rangers hold off Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury (2,226,797)? And if not, what would MLB fans think of a starting lineup featuring all Yankees and Red Sox with the exception of Toronto's Jose Bautista? This is when statements are usually made. Hashtags: #VOTEJOSH and #VOTEJACOBY.
NL outfield: Matt Kemp (2,062,667) of the Dodgers was closing in on Matt Holliday (2,390,118) of the Cardinals in the bid for the third spot. Hashtags: #VOTEHOLLIDAY and #VOTEKEMP.
AL third base: New York's Alex Rodriguez (2,876,537) continued to lead Texas' Adrian Beltre (2,307,380). Hashtags: #VOTE AROD and #VOTEBELTRE.
Immediately following the announcement of the rosters, fans will begin voting to select the final player for each league's 34-man roster via the 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint. Fans will cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a four-day period and the winners will be announced after the voting concludes on Thursday, July 7. Fans will be able to make their Final Vote selections on their mobile phones as well, courtesy of Sprint. Last year's selections through that means were Votto and Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will have fans again participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. McCann earned that honor last year after scorching a three-run double off Matt Thornton to give the NL its long-awaited first triumph since 1996. Importantly, that also gave the NL home-field advantage in the subsequent World Series, where the Giants easily won the first two games on their way beating the Rangers in five. It was the NL's first such home-field edge since the All-Star victory rule was instituted for 2003.
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage.