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ALL-STARS REFLECT RISING STATURE

The All-Star Game - despite the incessant Fox promos and gimmicky attachment of determining homefield advantage for the World Series - really is just a meaningless exhibition.

But there is something to be said for the level of participation.

For so many years - nine of their first 10 to be exact - the Rays had only one representative. (And only two the other time.) And for most of those years, it was as much a question of who had to go to satisfy the all-teams-represented rule than who should go as an acknowledgement of stellar play.

The change came with the Rays' early 2008 success, as they had three players in New York that year, five in St. Louis last year (along with manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff) and a decent chance for four this year in Anaheim.

Who would have ever thought a Ray - any Ray - would out-poll a Yankees star such as Alex Rodriguez two years in a row, as 3B Evan Longoria has?

"Obviously, it speaks to the strength of the franchise and the work that we've done over the last couple years," Maddon said last week. "I'd like to believe the trend will continue. I think with some of the guys that are coming up, I think they have those kind of abilities.

"It definitely creates pride within the organization, and that's obviously a good thing. And also while it's created the pride, it's also pointing that you're doing things right."

And that, Maddon said, can have even more important implications.

"When you get to that point, then you have other people that are more willing to listen," he said. "I'm talking about the people within your own group."

The recent success has led to a change in perspective. Whereas in the past just having a Ray selected for the team was good enough, this year there has been lobbying for Carl Crawford to be elected a starter.

"Carl is a unique player in today's game," Maddon said. "If he was able to be able to be seen more nationally, it would be a slam dunk. He toils a little bit in the obscurity of where we work. I would really not understand why he would not be voted in. He's the kind of baseball player everybody likes to watch."

That's something else you didn't used to hear about a Ray.

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