Give the Carp fans some credit for their All-Star enthusiasm.
With the Hiroshima Carp swimming out of a successful interleague campaign into fourth place in the Central League, fans voted three Carp onto the squad, it was announced on Monday. Carp pitcher Colby Lewis joined his teammates as the players' choice as No. 1 CL pitcher.
The Carp's four-man, All-Star contingent was matched by the CL-leading Hanshin Tigers, the Pacific League-leading Saitama Seibu Lions, the defending PL champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
"Frankly, I'm stunned," said 39-year-old Carp lefty Ken Takahashi, who will be on his fourth All-Star team.
"I'm in my last year as a 30-something, so I look at this as a huge present. I want to shut down those batters from Orix and Rakuten, the teams that hit me well in interleague."
Takahashi, who has been effective if not dominating this season with a 6-4 record and a 3.03 ERA, was joined among the fan selections by Carp second baseman Akihiro Higashide and veteran outfielder Tomonori Maeda.
Maeda is the biggest surprise of the vote. Playing in just 52 games, the 37-year-old is hitting .243 with four home runs in 144 at-bats.
Higashide is hitting .354 for the Carp, although the players opted for Chunichi Dragons second baseman Masahiro Araki. The Dragons, who had no players voted to the CL squad by the fans, had the distinction of three player selections.
Araki was joined in the All-Star infield by first baseman Tyrone Woods and shortstop Hirokazu Ibata. This year, players were given a vote and their top picks joined the All-Star squads if they differed from the fans'.
The Tigers, who appeared to be runaway leaders in the CL fan voting at the end of June, wound up with just four: middle reliever Tomoyuki Kubota, closer Kyuji Fujikawa and two position players who, not surprisingly, began their careers in Hiroshima: first baseman Takahiro Arai and outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto.
The two most popular players in both the fans' and players' votes were Lions outfielder G.G. Sato, whose 367,837 votes just edged him past Fighters outfielder Atsunori Inaba, who was named on 366,636 ballots. Sato beat Inaba in the players' poll as well, 476-470.
Fans added two Lions position players to the PL squad, third baseman Takeya Nakamura and catcher Toru Hosokawa.
On Sunday at Seibu Dome, Nakamura said his ambition was to have fun.
"I think people voted for me because of my home runs, so I'd like to hit a home run," Nakamura said, adding he would also like to steal a base.
"I never get to steal in the regular season, so if I get on base, I'm going to be running," said the 1.75-meter, 102-kilogram Nakamura, whose nickname "Okawari-kun" means the kid who asks for extra helpings.
"Actually, I'm not going to run. I've never stolen a base on a straight steal as far back as I remember. Heck, I might not even get on base."
Sato, whose pro career took him to the minor leagues in the Philadelphia Phillies organization before he was drafted in the seventh round by the Lions in 2003, said he never expected to be on the team.
"I've watched it on TV, but I never imagined I would be playing in one," said Sato, who is third in the league with 19 home runs and leads the PL with 23 doubles.
Kataoka, who leads both leagues with 30 stolen bases, said being chosen by the players was a special honor.
"When I voted, I looked at technique," he said Sunday. "For that reason, I really appreciate the opinion of the other players."
Fans selected Fighters second baseman Kensuke Tanaka to the PL team, where he joins Inaba, starting pitcher Yu Darvish and middle reliever Hisashi Takeda.
The Hawks had three players voted in by fans: first baseman Hiroki Kokubo, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki and outfielder Hiroshi Shibahara. Cleanup hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka, who was on the ballot as designated hitter, was added to the roster at first base.
This year's All-Star games will be played at Kyocera Dome Osaka on July 31 and at Yokohama Stadium on Aug. 1.
Although the Pacific League has not won a game since sweeping both games in 2004, the league leads 73-67-8 since the games were first played in 1951.