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Lowell , Gonzalez need star support

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Muckdog
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MIAMI -- Marlins manager Jack McKeon calls shortstop Alex Gonzalez a "magician" in the field.

If Gonzalez indeed has magical powers, he may need to pull off a few tricks to earn a trip to the All-Star Game.

Each season, deserving players get snubbed.

Unless they collect more votes, Gonzalez and Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell face the possibility of slipping through the cracks.

Both have been All-Stars in the past. And both will need some luck to return.





The 26-year-old Gonzalez was picked as an All-Star reserve in 1999, then becoming the second rookie shortstop ever named to the National League squad.

Last season, the 29-year-old Lowell was taken as a reserve, making his only appearances in the Mid-Summer Classic.

Based on numbers, both are making strong arguments to be voted in as starters. But because the Marlins rank near the bottom of the league in home attendance, and the fact they lack the national exposure of more established teams, their stars are often overlooked.

"He's definitely not going to get voted in," said Lowell, recently discussing Gonzalez. "He just doesn't have the name. But I'd be very disappointed if he plays at this pace if he is not selected. That's what I think will be the shame. The vote is who the fans want to see out there. There are guys the media are going to agree with, and guys the players agree with and players don't agree with. I think if you are deserving, and you make it, that's the most important."

Of the two, Lowell has the best shot. A consummate pro who was groomed in the Yankees' system before being dealt to the Marlins in 1999, Lowell is batting .303 with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs.



A subject of trade rumors for weeks, Lowell's name has been in the news. And he's already got the national reputation for being a rising star.

A steady fielder, Lowell currently is fourth among N.L. third basemen. The most recent fan tally has Scott Rolen of the Cardinals leading (435,685), followed by Arizona's Shea Hillenbrand (169,448), Atlanta's Vinny Castilla (150,405). Lowell has 147,644.

A year ago, Lowell was second in the voting to Rolen.

Gonzalez has a bigger uphill battle because he doesn't rate in the top five for shortstops.

Arguably the best fielding shortstop in baseball, Gonzalez makes difficult plays seem routine. He is a strong Gold Glove contender. But surprisingly, it's Gonzalez's hitting that makes him All-Star worthy.

The shortstop is batting .332 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs. His .379 on-base percentage is best on the team and his slugging percent (.601) is second only to Lowell's .602.

Ironically, at the shortstop position there are two players named Alex Gonzalez. The other is with the Cubs.

While Florida's Gonzalez may sparkle on the field, he is shy off it. A native of Venezuela, he is one of the least quoted players on the team. He entered the season with a .240 career batting average, and many didn't know what to expect of him because last May he dislocated his left shoulder and didn't return. In all, he played in 42 games in 2002 and hit .225 in 151 at-bats.

Now healthy, he has 208 at-bats and he's added 18 doubles and four triples.

The Marlins likely will have an All-Star starter in Ivan Rodriguez, who leads the National League with 264,262 votes.

The fact that the Marlins are a sub-.500 team and Rodriguez will probably start may impact how many other players on the team are selected. Two is likely, but three may not be. Also, second baseman Luis Castillo is gaining consideration based on his .310 average and the fact he was an All-Star last season after he gained notoriety with his 35-game hitting streak.

"It's a popularity contest," Lowell said. "Overall, it's a game for the fans. If they want to vote guys in who aren't deserving, I don't have a problem with that. I just hope that the guys who are deserving make the team as well. The fans want to see certain guys play. If they are having good years, so be it. If they aren't, I don't have a problem with it."



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Rune

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