Led by Evan Longoria, who was the fan’s choice to start at third base for the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays will send a franchise-high four players to the All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis.
Joining Longoria are shortstop Jason Bartlett, left fielder Carl Crawford and second baseman Ben Zobrist.
“I think it shows a lot about the steps that the team has taken, as far as the fan’s eye, and it’s definitely a huge honor, obviously with the caliber of third basemen there are in the American League, to be the leading vote getter is just a tremendous honor,” Longoria told reporters Sunday afternoon in Arlington, TX.
The Rays have a chance to send a fifth player. First baseman Carlos Peña is among the final five players in the “Final Vote” on-line campaign.
The defending American League champions will be well represented at the All-Star Game. Rays manager Joe Maddon will manage the American League squad with the help of his entire coaching staff.
Longoria is an All-Star for a second straight year, having won the American League “Final Vote” by a record nine million last July during his rookie season. He was one of a then team record three Rays to attend an All-Star Game, joining pitcher Scott Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro.
Longoria is the second player in team history to be voted a starter by the fans. Jose Canseco was voted in as the designated hitter in 1999 but missed the game because of back surgery.
Crawford, who leads the major leagues in stolen bases with 40 and is third in the majors with 104 hits, will attend a franchise-record third All-Star Game. He was a reserve in 2004 and 2007, homering for his only All-Star Game hit in the American League’s win in 2007 at San Francisco.
Bartlett and Zobrist are making their first trips to the All-Star Game.
Bartlett, the top-hitting shortstop in the majors, finished second to Derek Jeter of the Yankees in the fan voting.
Zobrist is the surprise of the quartet, having begun the season as the Rays super utility player. The versatile Zobrist has started at six different positions — second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield sports — but has settled in as the Rays every-day second baseman after Akinori Iwamura injured his knee on May 24.
“I think it is all well deserved obviously,” Maddon said. “I’m in agreement with all the people that were voted in and I felt, I’m looking at everybody else that was available or eligible and I just felt that Zobrist’s numbers stacked up really well. And you have to be careful, you want to be fair to everybody else but then you cannot be unfair to your own group at the same time. I just looked at the whole thing and I felt Ben definitely belonged on the team also.”
Zobrist leads the American League in slugging percentage and OPS. With a career-high 16 home runs through 82 games, he is on pace to hit more than 30 this season.
“I’m really excited to see Zobrist go,” Longoria said. “I definitely think he deserved it. He didn’t get the at-bats he needed at the beginning of the year, but you saw when he got the at bats his abilities.”