As the 2017 All-Star ballot voting deadline looms, there’s another Major League Baseball tradition that captures the best baseball players as well as fan favorites.

With a few short weeks until the 2017 All-Star break, there are many things in baseball right now that we could talk about this week: The Dodgers are back atop the NL West while the once red-hot Rockies have fallen to third place inside a week. The Red Sox are challenging the Yankees for the top of the AL East. At the ripe old age of 43, Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki becomes the oldest player to start in center field. The list goes on.

This week I want to reflect on another great baseball tradition, one that parallels the All-Star game but in a very different way: Baseball cards.

Party Voter, or Voting for the Best

Way back in the mid-1980s I was a 6-year-old girl that wore ribbons in my pigtails, which were tucked neatly under my baseball cap. The only thing that really gave away the fact that I was the only girl on my baseball team was my pink glove, and after big wins I’d tear off my cap to the shocked cries of “Hey, that’s a girl!” coming from the opposing dugout. As one of three girls in the entire Peninsula Little League, I got that a lot. No one expected the first baseman to be a girl, especially not one whose hair ribbons matched her uniform. Ah, memories.

One of the traditions with my Little League team was finishing up a game and running to the snack shack, where we purchased Gatorade, chips, and baseball cards. The wrappers on the baseball cards were off before the Gatorades were cracked open. Soon the air was filled with excited exclamations and groans of agony, depending on what was in our packs.

Those of us who found cards we wanted were excited. It wasn’t necessarily that we found cards of the hottest players in baseball at that point, but we found cards for guys we liked. In my case, as a San Diegan it was any Padres player, be it Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, Tim Flannery, or a Bruce Bochy. I was happy when I got cards from my team. Some of my teammates were the same as me, but they weren’t looking for Padres cards. For them, it was all about the Yankees or the Dodgers.

For the rest of my teammates, especially those pain-in-the-butt guys who drove me nuts, it was about having the best players. They wanted Cy Young winners, Golden Glove winners, MVPs. To heck with the teams, they were compiling the best roster you could find with their decks, discarding the no-names and hanging on to the guys who had the name recognition.

You can imagine how my little league team filled out All-Star ballots. Half of them voted for their teams while the other half voted for the best players.

Sentimental Mentality

A few years ago I was in a sports memorabilia shop on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. I immediately struck up a conversation with the owner, who wanted to discuss the NCAA given my background in college athletics. The conversation turned, however, when I asked if he had a Mark Grant rookie card. The idea to search for it popped into my head when thinking about something to bring back for my sister, who knows the former pitcher and current Padres broadcaster from the old Qualcomm Stadium days.

Alas, the owner didn’t have a Mark Grant rookie card, but there were a few other gems in the dollar bin that ended up coming home with me. For the record, I’m still looking for a Mark Grant rookie card for my sister. That’s what sisters who love baseball do.

The search for Mudcat’s rookie card in a shop in Las Vegas is an example of the kind of sentimentality that comes with baseball, baseball cards, and All-Star voting. Every now and then you find yourself voting for All-Star players for purely sentimental reasons.

This year’s sentimental favorite might be Adam Jones, whose stunning catch during the World Baseball Classic robbed his teammate of a home run that could have changed the course of the Team USA win over Puerto Rico. Kris Bryant might be another sentimental pick; while he’s not the leader of the pack, he was part of the beloved 2016 Cubs team and the MVP, so that’s worth something, right?

Sentimental favorites are harder to get on the final rosters in many cases, but they’re the ones some fans are really rooting for.

All-Star Voting and Baseball Cards

All-Star voting works the same way as collecting baseball cards. Fans can make a selection based on the criteria that suits them best, be it dedication to the hometown team to putting together the best roster in baseball.

It’s fun to pick people’s’ brains about how they vote for their All-Stars, just as it’s fun to see the baseball cards people collect. Even as an adult, I pick up Padres cards whenever I happen to see them, and I have a nice collection of cards from 1996 and 1998 as a result.

Over the weekend I bought a pack of Topps baseball cards from the Opening Day 2017 line. Of my seven card set, I ended up with four pitchers and two position players, along with a card highlighting the Nacho Bowl at Miller Park. (Yes, it’s a baseball card dedicated to ballpark food. Soon there will be craft beer ballpark cards. Mark my words) The most notable cards of the pack were Justin Verlander and Kenta Maeda. Not too shabby.

We could spend time talking about the fact that the stick of gum is gone, and that these cards are made more for collectors than they are for kids. As I searched through the pack of cards for Padres players and other recognizable names, it occurred to me that nothing had changed. I was doing the same thing I did when I was younger, which is also reflective of my All-Star ballot. Since each fan can cast multiple ballots, I always do an entire ballot of my favorite players, and then I fill out the subsequent ballots for the guys who should be playing in the big game.

As the All-Star ballot closes this week, there’s no question that we’ll have lots of movement in the final days. When the rosters are announced there will surely be those players who are the best at their positions, while others may be there because they’re fan favorites. Like baseball cards, embroidering a name on a replica jersey, or collecting autographs, All-Star ballots are the same as all of the other baseball traditions and they’re ultimately guided by the fans who vote for any number of reasons.

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