Varitek, Jenkins are All-Stars
In a year of big changes surrounding next Tuesday's All-Star Game, maybe it should not be surprising that fans selected Boston catcher Jason Varitek and Milwaukee outfielder Geoff Jenkins as the 32nd men with the etopps All-Star Final Vote that concluded Wednesday night. Both will be there for the first time, making it 30 of 64 roster picks that will be first-timers in the event at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Varitek and Jenkins will each fill the 32nd and final roster spots in the American and National Leagues, respectively, after three days of extremely close races and remarkable fan participation. A record 10.8 million ballots were submitted, far beyond the three million during last year's inaugural program.
Varitek received 3,210,509 votes. He was followed by Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, Eric Byrnes of the Oakland A's, Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees and Bengie Molina of the Anaheim Angels. All was not lost for Giambi, though; he was named as an AL replacement for Kansas City's Mike Sweeney, who has a back injury.
In the NL voting, Jenkins received 2,872,200 votes to finish tops among the five candidates. He was followed by Benito Santiago of the San Francisco Giants, Kenny Lofton of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Orlando Cabrera of the Montreal Expos and Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins.
Varitek, enjoying the best year of his career to date with a .296 average, 15 home runs and 51 RBIs entering Wednesday's game at Toronto, makes the Red Sox 2-for-2 in the brief and overwhelmingly popular history of this online vote that put Johnny Damon on last year's roster. Varitek singled in the winning run in the 12th inning Tuesday night at Toronto, and later that night he narrowly widened his lead in this vote.
"It's a great honor," said Varitek, a catcher normally known for his defense. "I have a lot of people to thank. My family and friends and thank the fans in Boston. They're the ones that made this happen." As for the three-day race, he added: "I kind of stayed away from it."
Jenkins, hitting .285 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs, said he "couldn't have scripted it any better." It was especially sweet for him after what happened in 2002, when his season ended in June after he dislocated his right ankle, tearing ligaments on the outside of the ankle and partially tearing ligaments on the inside of the ankle. That nullified any chance of Jenkins making his first All-Star appearance that season on his home field of Miller Park.
"Last year, you've got those thoughts of, 'Am I going to be able to come back?'" Jenkins said. "When you suffer an injury like that, you wonder if you're going to be the same player. So I knew I had to dedicate myself this offseason. It was probably four to five hours a day rehab on my ankle alone. That was before hitting and doing anything else.
"I guess I just worked as hard as I could to get back and show Milwaukee, the fans and my teammates and the coaches and the staff that I was the same player."
Among the people Jenkins thanked were Brewers media relations director Jon Greenberg and his staff, who organized an unprecedented campaign in the local and national media to promote Jenkins over Santiago, who had the edge after the first round of voting. Even Jenkins thought Santiago had the inside track. "It was a long three days," Jenkins said, "but it was worth it."
If the etopps All-Star Final Vote was an infusion of new Midsummer Classic blood, then it was even more noticeable because of the longtime Major Leaguers who finished second in each league. Thomas, 35, was hoping for his first All-Star selection since 1998 and might have been a sentimental favorite in the balloting because it would have put him on his home field Tuesday. Santiago, 38, made his first All-Star appearance last year after a 10-year absence.
"I just didn't get it done," Thomas said with a smile. "I was looking forward to being 'Mr. Irrelevant,' but it's fine. A lot of great players aren't going, and it's just one of those things this year where you can only take so many people."
"Knowing people voted for me and that I was on top for a while makes me feel good," Santiago said. "It's better to make the team, but people have good years."
The five choices in each league were presented by All-Star managers Dusty Baker (NL) and Mike Scioscia (AL). The Cubs' Corey Patterson had been on the original ballot but due to a season-ending injury was replaced by Lofton.
Damon and Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones were the fans' choices to fill the roster spots last season, and for Damon it also represented his first selection to the All-Star Game. That was the second time around for Jones.
The 10.8 million ballots cast for the final man program, combined with the 4.6 million online ballots cast for the starting team as announced on July 2, makes Major League Baseball's online All-Star Game balloting the largest online voting program in the history of the Internet.
The etopps All-Star Final Vote was the second of three ways fans can make their voices heard in this year's Midsummer Classic. Fans voted in record numbers for the starters, and the next step will be for fans to help determine the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in an online vote presented by Pepsi. Fans will have 20 percent of the say in who wins that honor.