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04/26/11 5:00 PM ET

It's back and better: All-Star balloting under way

Fans can cast up to 25 votes online through June 30

Balloting is under way for the 82nd All-Star Game on July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix, marking the return of an annual fan tradition and the 10th anniversary of a powerful and popular addition to the annual rite.

"The launch of All-Star balloting today continues a special tradition for baseball fans around the world," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "The All-Star Game is a celebration of baseball, its players and its fans. From Hank Aaron and Willie Mays to today's perennial All-Stars like Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols, fans have enjoyed the opportunity to see their favorite players in the Midsummer Classic. We are looking forward to playing the summer's greatest sporting event in Arizona for the first time ever."

Major League Baseball, Firestone and the D-backs conducted a special on-field ceremony prior to the host club's game Tuesday against the Phillies, signifying the launch of the largest All-Star balloting program in sports and one of the largest voter participation programs in the U.S. outside of state and national elections. Last year's program drew 21.1 million ballots, the second-highest figure ever. More than 20 million Firestone ballots will be distributed at the 30 MLB parks, each of which will have 23 home dates for balloting, and in approximately 100 Minor League ballparks.

The 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint is back with enhanced functionality, including both leagues on one page, the capability to highlight all of your favorite team's candidates, and a feature that collapses each category and profiles your pick. Fans have submitted nearly 1.5 billion votes at MLB.com to determine starters since 2001, the beginning of online All-Star voting as we know it. That was the first time you could vote up to 25 times per email address -- a fact of life now -- and it also took the Midsummer Classic global, as tech-savvy fans in Japan voted strong for a rookie named Ichiro Suzuki. That year changed the game.

"It's a huge honor," said D-backs outfielder Chris Young, who made his All-Star debut last summer in Anaheim. "It's great for the fans, because if you have that hometown guy who you really want to root for, you can really go out there and make a difference. I know fans can fill out a lot of ballots apiece. The technology nowadays, you're on the computer and you can really research these players. It's crazy how wide and big it's gotten. It's more exciting now. Back when I was younger, you couldn't compare stats and see video of the candidates. It's so much bigger now."

Every Major League club will have begun its in-stadium balloting no later than May 10. When the in-stadium phase of balloting concludes on June 24, fans will have the opportunity to cast their ballots exclusively online at MLB.com and the 30 club sites until 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 30. The 2011 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 AL All-Star Team will have nine elected starters via the fan balloting program, while the NL squad will have eight fan-elected starters. 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 the two All-Star managers -- Bruce Bochy of the Giants (NL) and Ron Washington of the Rangers (AL) -- in conjunction with Major League Baseball.

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. Now in its seventh year, fans again will be able to make their Final Vote selections on their mobile phones, courtesy of Sprint. Last year's selections through that means were Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher and Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

"Last year was such a joy for me, not only to be at my first All-Star Game, but the reason I went to the game was because of the fans," Swisher said this month. "I can't thank them enough for that opportunity. I had an absolute blast. It's something I want to shoot for every year now. Once you get there, you don't ever want to leave. For myself, just put things together, keep working hard and hopefully end up there."

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. Braves catcher Brian McCann earned that honor last year after scorching a three-run double off Matt Thornton to give the NL its 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.

"As a kid, this is what you dream about when you play baseball," McCann said after that game as he handed his bat over to the Hall of Fame.

Every player wants to be an All-Star. Every fan has a say in whether it is deserved in 2011. And as always, there will be weekly voting tallies during the course of the campaign. Twins catcher Joe Mauer was the top overall vote-getter in 2010, but will he be healthy enough to return to form and return to the annual showcase event? Will Jeter's chase for 3,000 career hits help fuel a 12th All-Star selection by fans -- or as a reserve? Will Prince Fielder's hot start for the Brewers translate into a start at first for NL instead of Pujols -- as was the case in 2007 at San Francisco? Could the amazing first-month story of Rays outfielder Sam Fuld carry momentum through the voting?

Ryan Braun of the Brewers was the top vote-getter among outfielders in 2010 (2,972,525 votes) and '09 (4,138,599), and in '08, he had the third-highest vote total of anyone in MLB with 3,835,890 votes. He is the only Brewers player to ever be elected to start in three consecutive All-Star Games, and he spoke about the honor of the fans' attention:

"It is amazing, it is definitely special. 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."

Last year's online balloting programs at MLB.com featured 270 million votes cast for the starters, Final Vote and All-Star Game MVP, again reaching record-setting levels for total online votes cast. You can vote online or via your mobile device, which also will be good news to all those fans who enjoy the best-selling MLB.com At Bat app on their devices around the clock. The 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint offers English and Spanish-language versions of the online ballot as well as audio CAPTCHA functionality for visually-impaired fans.

Firestone, the official tire of MLB, is once again the exclusive sponsor of the 2011 In-Stadium All-Star Balloting Program. The ballot features an All-Star sweepstakes, in which a winner will win a trip for two to MLB All-Star Week, including hotel, airfare, tickets to the All-Star Game and other MLB All-Star Week events, plus a set of four Firestone tires.

Scotts, the official lawn care company of MLB, is once again the sponsor of the retail All-Star Balloting Program, which launches May 10 at more than 1,700 Lowe's stores across the U.S. The Scotts ballot will feature an All-Star sweepstakes, where a winner and one guest will win a trip to the MLB All-Star Week, including hotel, airfare, tickets to the All-Star Game, plus a $500 MasterCard gift card.

Banco BHD will sponsor All-Star balloting May 2-June 30 in the Dominican Republic, making Spanish-language ballots available online at lasmayores.com, the official Spanish-language Web site of MLB, and at All-Star balloting terminals across more than 80 branches.

For the third consecutive year, this year's ballot will feature the State Farm Home Run Derby Fan Poll. Fans will have the opportunity to select three players in each league who they would most like to see participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, held the night before the Midsummer Classic and broadcast live on ESPN. The 10 AL candidates are Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, Adam Dunn of the White Sox, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, defending champion David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Vernon Wells of the Angels and Suzuki. The 10 NL candidates are 2009 winner Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, 2006 winner Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Carlos Peña of the Cubs, Jayson Werth of the Nationals, David Wright of the Mets, Pujols and Votto.

Let the voting begin -- and write in a candidate if you don't see him on the ballot.

"It's awesome," said D-backs right fielder Justin Upton, who will serve as an active-player ambassador representing the host franchise, as Torii Hunter did for the Angels last year. Naturally, he would love to be back as a selection, as he was in 2009 in St. Louis. "It's for the fans to be able to express how they feel about the players and vote for their favorites. It's always fun with the All-Star stuff and the hoopla that comes with it, and hopefully the fans have fun with it."

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.

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