ANAHEIM -- If you think cultural barriers can isolate a Japanese player from his teammates, you should take a look at Red Sox right-hander Koji Uehara.
Uehara, with his wide smile and the most enthusiastic high five in the game, has quickly become one of the most popular players on his team.
And those teammates who have come to appreciate Uehara so much hope that his popularity can spread to the Final Vote, where the closer is one of five American League players in the running to earn a trip to the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York.
More than 16 million votes are in as of Monday's voting release. In a wild opening to the AL race, Toronto's Steve Delabar is among four candidates to hold a lead. Uehara, the Yankees' David Robertson and the Tigers' Joaquin Benoit each have been in first and currently sit in second, third and fourth place, respectively. Remarkably, less than 600,000 votes separate the entire AL field, Delabar to the Rangers' Tanner Scheppers, who ranks fifth.
It's safe to say that slugger David Ortiz will be sending some votes Uehara's way the next time he gets on to his laptop or iPhone.
AL CANDIDATES BY THE NUMBERS
* Stats entering July 11
"I'm taking him [to the All-Star Game]. I'm taking him with me no matter what," said Ortiz. "That's my boy."
If you need some comedy, check out Uehara when he comes back to the bench after a 1-2-3 inning. You'll see a player almost leveling his teammates with a rapid wave of high fives.
The AL All-Star Team should beware of Uehara if he ends up making the team.
"Oh man, he might get into a fight, because he might slap somebody in the face. He always comes in swinging all over the place. He got me once," howled Ortiz.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves has witnessed firsthand how deserving Uehara is of a trip to the All-Star Game, and he plans on casting some votes at mlb.com.
"Absolutely," Nieves said. "I think he's awesome. He brings a lot of fire. Low maintenance guy. He knows what he has to do. He's well deserving of it."
If Red Sox Nation gets behind Uehara, he should in fact have two nations behind him. Do not underestimate the loyalty of fans in Japan.
Manager John Farrell witnessed it firsthand when he was Hideki Okajima's pitching coach in 2007. Okajima became the third Red Sox player to get a trip to the All-Star Game via the Final Vote. Uehara hopes to become the fourth.
"It might be somewhat reminiscent of '07 when Hideki was on that list of five and he probably had an entire country backing him in the voting, and hopefully it takes place again for Koji," said Farrell.
Reliever Junichi Tazawa marveled at Uehara as both a professional Japanese player and a Major Leaguer before having the thrill of becoming his teammate this season.
"He's just such a popular player in Japan with what he accomplished," Tazawa said. "For him to be appreciated for what he has accomplished over here, I'm certainly rooting for him."
Now in its 12th year, the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Saturday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and ends Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote online. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 12-26. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15 percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 12 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Mobile voting in the U.S. and Canada is open to everyone. In the U.S., to receive the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for Uehara, simply text message A5 to 89269. In Canada, fans should text A5 to 101010. Standard message and data rates may apply. To vote for another player via text message, use the codes below.
A1 - Joaquin Benoit, Detroit
A2 - Steve Delabar, Toronto
A3 - David Robertson, New York Yankees
A4 - Tanner Scheppers, Texas
A5 - Koji Uehara, Boston
N1 - Ian Desmond, Washington
N2 - Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
N3 - Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
N4 - Hunter Pence, San Francisco
N5 - Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
For the second consecutive year, the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by freecreditscore.com (#FinalVote) will include a social balloting element as Twitter support from the candidates' fans over the last six hours of balloting will count toward their final totals. From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the overall vote total used to determine the AL and NL winners. Fans may follow @MLB on the popular social networking service for the latest standings updates in advance of the 4 p.m. ET balloting deadline.
At the age of 38, Uehara is putting together a stellar season for the Red Sox. He has a 1.93 ERA in 40 games, notching 53 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .170 against Uehara.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.