Only in America.
Last week, a rookie batter from Japan, who speaks to the press through an interpreter, became the first non-pitcher from his country to be named to the American League All-Star starter lineup. Although he has been in America only since November, Ichiro Suzuki was the highest vote getter of all of the starters - another first.
Suzuki, 27, is no flash in the pan. He played professional ball in Japan for nine years, where he was a seven-time Japanese league All Star before his contract was bought out by Seattle. The right fielder is already the leading base stealer in the major leagues and although some harbored doubts that his batting strength could hold up to more competitive American baseball, Suzuki leaves the rest of them in the dust. In just three months he has led the league with 134 hits.
He's not the first from Japan, nor will he be the last to make the All-Stars. Back in 1995, Hideo Nomo was just a rookie in the National League (in fact, he was named rookie of the year) when he was chosen as the starting pitcher for the All-Star game. But Suzuki is setting a whole new standard for players coming out of Japan, where he is regarded as a national hero on the scale of Michael Jordan.
OK, OK, so a lot of the ballots cast for the All-Star line-up came from Japan. But that's the nature of the sport, especially if U.S. baseball ever wants to truly become a world game, with a real "world series."
We can't limit balloting to just this country, especially when we have players from all over the world now earning everyday positions.
Ultimately, the balloting for the All-Stars game is a popularity contest, which is perfectly fine, because it gets the fans involved in a game that is meant to be a crowd-pleaser with a pageant of great players.
That means fading stars like third-baseman Cal Ripkin get picked out of sentimentality, over stronger candidates whose stars are shining this season, such as the Mariners' David Bell.
Even Atlanta Braves Greg Maddux didn't make the popularity cut in the National League's team. That's the nature of the game - and that's why we love it.
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