NL All-Star roster
ATLANTA -- When Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles and Russ Ortiz need to know something about how to prepare for their first All-Star Game this year, they can simply ask the four veteran Braves players who will be joining them.
Furcal, Giles and Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones and Javy Lopez will all represent the Braves on this year's National League team, which will be competing for league home-field advantage in the World Series. This year's Midsummer Classic will be played on July 15 at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's an honor," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. " It's a great tribute to how well these guys have played. We're all very proud of them. It's a reflection of how their talent is appreciated by the fans and by the media and by the players. It's a great honor."
The seven selectees are the most from any one team this year and also match the franchise high, which was set in 1997 when Braves manager Bobby Cox was the manager.
So would Cox have selected seven Braves this year?
"Yes I would," Cox said. "I would have picked nine. All of our hitters. They were hot almost to the end of the voting and that got everybody over the hump."
Giles, Lopez and Sheffield were all elected by fans to be part of the NL starting lineup, which will also include three Cardinals (Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen). While Sheffield was elected once before, in the 1993 season, this is the first time Giles and Lopez have earned positions through balloting.
"This is one of my dreams to be the starting catcher," Lopez said. "I've been two times before, but it's not the same as going to the All-Star Game as the starting catcher."
Smoltz, Jones and Furcal were selected as reserves in balloting among NL coaches, managers and players. This was the first year that both league's All-Star managers weren't given the responsibility to select all of the reserves for their respective teams.
Ortiz, who shares the league lead with 11 wins, was added to this year's roster by NL manager Dusty Baker, in conjunction with MLB. Baker, who left the Giants to become the Cubs skipper in the offseason, managed the Braves' new ace for five seasons in San Francisco.
"I'm excited," Ortiz said. "It's a privilege and an honor to be selected. I've always wanted to play in an All-Star Game at least once and now I have the opportunity."
Giles, who had never been on the All-Star ballot before this season, has had his share of offensive struggles since mid-June. But fans were obviously impressed enough with his offensive and defensive improvements that they ensured he'd be rewarded. Eighty-two percent of the 1,103,569 votes he received were cast online.
"I don't know what to say. It is a nice honor, there's no question," Giles said. "There's going to be a lot of guys who deserve to be on the All-Star team but didn't make it. It's just fortunate that I've got a lot of fan support and a lot of votes from the fans around here. We've been drawing good crowds and I'm sure that helps. I was hoping [my brother] Brian would make it but he's going to be there regardless."
If Giles isn't this year's feel-good story from the Braves' end, then Lopez must be. The veteran catcher, who hit .233 with 11 homers last year, dropped more than 30 pounds during the winter, and has already come within four homers of the total he hit over the past two seasons.
"I feel like I've been blessed," Lopez said. "This is a moment I'm going to enjoy. Whatever people have said about me, that's their right. My last two seasons I've played shaky. I know there was a lot of baseball left in me. All I care is about me playing the game and know that I'm doing something for the team."
Furcal had led the balloting among NL shortstops earlier this month, before starting to slump at the plate and seeing Renteria assume the lead. But the Braves shortstop is still simply proud that his peers thought enough about him to include him on the roster.
"Its my first time being at an All-Star Game," Furcal said. "You have to be happy. Everybody who comes to the big leagues wants to make at least one All-Star Game. For me, when I retire then I can say I made at least one All-Star Game."
Smoltz, who became a full-time closer last year, has now been selected to two consecutive All-Star Games as a reliever. In between 1989 and '96, he was selected to four All-Star Games as a starting pitcher.
"In a new role it's hard to imagine that two years would go by and I would be selected to two of these in this role," Smoltz said. "It is really because of the opportunities that have been presented."
Sheffield and Jones have been two of the major reasons the Braves offense has been so productive this season. The two talented outfielders have solidified the middle of the lineup that has benefited greatly from some of the production Furcal and Giles have generated at the top.
So what does it mean to Sheffield that he'll be joined by six teammates at this year's All-Star Game?
"It's just a tribute to what kind of team we have," Sheffield answered.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.