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07/05/09 5:31 PM ET

Sandoval has All-Star shot with Final Vote

Giants' versatile 'Panda' one of five up for last NL spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' "Kung Fu Panda" is more than just a cuddly figure. He's a legitimate offensive force.

This was reaffirmed Sunday as Pablo Sandoval, who possesses the "Panda" nickname along with a slew of impressive statistics, was chosen as one of five "Final Vote" candidates for the National League All-Star squad that will face its AL counterparts on July 14 in St. Louis.

Asked during a pregame news conference if he'll vote for himself, Sandoval prompted laughter by replying, "Yeah, for sure."

His teammates will enthusiastically throw their support behind him.

"We did it with [Aaron] Rowand last year," All-Star right-hander Matt Cain said, referring to the Giants' 2008 Final Vote nominee. "Everybody was like, 'Mandatory text on the bus.'"

Now in its eighth year, the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi and continues until 1 p.m. PT on Thursday. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.

Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL player 3 or "N4" to vote for NL player 4. Standard rate messaging fees also may apply; check with your carrier. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555.

The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP vote on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.

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 5 p.m. PT. 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.

Sandoval's Final Vote rivals are Washington infielder Cristian Guzman, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds and Philadelphia outfielder Shane Victorino.

Sandoval, who was playing at high-Class A San Jose a little more than a year ago, said that merely being eligible for the Final Vote was "one of the biggest moments of my life." Winning it, he said, would be deeply meaningful, especially given his humble roots in Venezuela.

"It's tough when you come from a Latin country, fighting," Sandoval said.

Sandoval, 22, entered Sunday ranked among the NL top 10 in batting average (fourth, .333), doubles (tied for fifth, 23), multi-hit games (tied for third, 30), slugging percentage (seventh, .566), extra-base hits (eighth, 38), hits (eighth, 93) and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage -- ninth, .954). He also topped the Major Leagues with a .400 batting average in two-out situations.

The free-swinging yet consistent switch-hitter stepped up his game in June, batting an NL-high .394. That included a 10-game hitting streak in which he batted .500.

"You look at what he's done for us with his hitting, his defense and his overall game. ... He's one of the best young players in the game right now," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Moreover, as most people who regularly watch the Giants realize, Sandoval's just plain fun to watch, whether he's blowing a gum bubble as he fields a ground ball or running out a triple as if there were a Christmas present at each base.

All-Star right-hander Tim Lincecum cited "the excitement he brings to the game. ... The fans love watching him play; people want to be around him. He kind of reminds me of Omar [Vizquel] the way he goes about it."

Sandoval has been versatile as well as productive, starting 51 games at third base, 17 at first, three at catcher and one as a designated hitter.

The honor roll of previous Final Vote winners consists of Johnny Damon (Red Sox) and Andruw Jones (Braves), 2002; Jason Varitek (Red Sox) and Geoff Jenkins (Brewers), 2003; Hideki Matsui (Yankees) and Bobby Abreu (Phillies), 2004; Scott Podsednik (White Sox) and Roy Oswalt (Astros), 2005; A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) and Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers), 2006; Hideki Okajima (Red Sox) and Chris Young (Padres), 2007; and Evan Longoria (Rays) and Corey Hart (Brewers), 2008.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.