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CHICAGO -- Prince Fielder sheepishly admits he never was a huge fan of the Major League All-Star Game. He preferred the Home Run Derby.
Well, the Milwaukee Brewers' emotional and statistical leader is about to get the opportunity to take part in both.
Fielder was the top vote-getter among National League first basemen and will start the 78th All-Star Game in San Francisco. He will have lots of familiar company, since Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy, closer Francisco Cordero and starter Ben Sheets also won spots on the NL squad via the player's ballot.
The game is at San Francisco's AT&T Park on July 10.
"Four guys is pretty good for the Milwaukee Brewers," said Hardy.
He was right. Among the 16 NL teams, only the Brewers and Mets had four players picked. The Brewers had not sent four players to an All-Star Game since 1983, when Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Robin Yount represented the reigning American League Champions.
Fielder will become the first Brewers player to start a Midsummer Classic since outfielder Jeromy Burnitz replaced an injured Tony Gwynn in 1999. He is the first Brewers player voted to the starting lineup since Paul Molitor at third base in 1988 and will be the first Brewers first baseman to start since Cooper in 1982.
"I don't think it was a goal, but it's one of the results of hard work," Fielder said. "I knew that if I worked hard, hopefully one day I would be able to do it."
Sheets will appear at his third All-Star Game, Cordero his second and Hardy and Fielder, their first.
"All I can say to them," said Cordero, referring to the first-timers, "is enjoy it. They deserve it."
None more than Fielder. Going into Sunday's games, Fielder led the league with 27 home runs and a .622 slugging percentage (among batting title qualifiers) and was tied for second with 66 RBIs, one behind leader Carlos Lee of Houston. He led NL first basemen in all of those categories while hitting .284, and out-balloted a number of the game's biggest and most popular stars, including the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, the Dodgers' Nomar Garciaparra, the Phillies' Ryan Howard, the Cubs' Derrek Lee and the Rockies' Todd Helton.
Fielder won the fan balloting over second-place finisher Pujols with 2,706,020 votes. Fielder took the lead from Pujols three weeks ago and had steadily been increasing his lead. Among all NL players, only Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. got more fan votes.
"I appreciate that," said Fielder, who has been friends with Griffey for years. "It shows that they like the way I play, and also that we're playing well and in first place. It shows the team is doing well, all-around."
Fielder said he intends to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby. His dad, Cecil Fielder, took part in the Derby in all three of his All-Star seasons: 1990, 1991 and 1993, with young Prince in tow.
"That will be fun," Fielder said. "It just seemed like everybody was having fun, especially the guys on the side waving their towels when somebody from the same team is hitting. I just want to get one [home run] first."
Fielder has already been seeking his Derby pitcher, but so far those he has asked have plans for the break. Whomever he gets, one teammate already has made his prediction.
"If he's going to participate, I'm going with Prince," said Cordero. "I love watching him hit, at home or wherever. He just hits that fall so far."
Hardy is fifth in the NL with 18 home runs. Might he take part as well?
"I don't think I'm realty the prototypical Home Run Derby guy," Hardy said. "Especially in San Francisco, that's a tougher ballpark to hit them out for righties. I think I might need some pitchers' velocity to get them out. I'm not really a home run hitter in [batting practice]."
Hardy started the season on a tear, hitting .304 through the end of May and trading spots at times with Fielder as the NL home run leader. Hardy batted .220 in June but still entered July leading NL shortstops in home runs, RBIs (51) and slugging percentage (.512).
"It's hard for me to really put into words, because coming into this season I had no expectations," said Hardy, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last May. "I just wanted to stay healthy and see what I can do. Now, voted to the All-Star Game, I don't know if it had sunk in yet."
Manager Ned Yost called a team meeting at 11:20 a.m. CT Sunday to reveal the picks. Hardy did not think he would make it.
"I was kind of content with, 'You know, there are great shortstops out there, and if I don't make it, then congratulations to everybody else,'" Hardy said. "To get voted in like this, it's awesome."
Cordero suffered his third blown save on Friday in Chicago but has been dominant this season. He did not allow a run until his 17th appearance and converted his first 22 save opportunities with a 0.36 ERA, conjuring comparisons to 1982 AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Rollie Fingers.
Cordero did not allow a home run until Friday, when he surrendered three Cubs runs in the ninth inning of a loss at Wrigley Field. He represented the Rangers on the AL All-Star team in 2004, but lost that team's closer's job in April 2006 and three months later was packaged in a trade to Milwaukee.
"It's an unbelievable feeling when you arrive at the field this morning and the first thing you hear is that you're going back to the All-Star Game," Cordero said. "From losing my job last year, coming in this year and making the All-Star Game, this is exciting. It's unbelievable. I don't know how to describe it. It's a beautiful feeling."
Sheets notched win No. 10 on Saturday, working eight innings against the Cubs and setting a season-high with 11 strikeouts. Sheets, who set a new career high with his sixth straight win, has gone 6-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his last seven starts.
"You can never really go enough," said Sheets, an All-Star in 2001 and 2004. "It's exciting to have four guys going. It's a sign of us having a good record."
Cordero agreed. The Brewers entered July with the NL's highest winning percentage (.588) and a 7 1/2 game lead in the NL Central.
"When you're a first-place team, you've got a lot of people talking about you," Cordero said. "That was not the case in the beginning of the season. Nobody thought that the Brewers would have been in first place. Nobody thought we would be doing the job we are doing. Like I said, this is unbelievable."
Sheets brushed off the notion of a possible starting assignment, saying flatly, "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to start, which is fine." But he makes his final first-half start on Thursday in Pittsburgh, and will be on regular rest on All-Star Game day in San Francisco.
The 78th 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 7 p.m. CT. 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.
The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers - become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season - in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.