Joey Votto: Canadian slugger

By Kerry Turner

Cincinnati Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto.

Cincinnati Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto says he is at his best when he is serious, but for fellow players and fans his more affable moments add to the fun and energy of the game. From donning a mascot outfit or Viking costume and parading about, to posting Instagram videos of himself driving a school bus, the Canadian slugger has endeared himself to fellow players and fans alike.

Drafted by Cincinnati in 2002, Votto played his first MLB game with the Reds in 2007. He remained a very private person until he appeared on social media during the pandemic. After finding the isolation and quiet challenging, he stepped outside the box and with his quirky sense of humour and self-effacing style Votto has attracted a loyal following.

On the surface there appears to be two Vottos − the intense ball player with an incredible career and stats who is a contender for the Hall of Fame, and more recently, the Joey Votto who seems to delight in entertaining others, plays chess at Toronto’s Annex Chess Club, studies Spanish, and grows his social media presence. In answer to why, he says, “I wanted to share more of myself and show more of my personal side. Chess takes my mind off work. It is also quite social, which I love.”

As for learning Spanish, he “wanted to be able to speak to my teammates, to develop a new skill and to open up travel options down the road.”

Votto is a six-time MLB All-Star, a seven-time Tip O’Neill Award winner, and two-time Lou Marsh Trophy (now called The Northern Star Award) winner as Canada’s athlete of the year. In 2010, he won the National League (NL) MVP Award and the NL Hank Aaron Award.

What will down the road be for Votto? He is in the final year of his 10-year contract extension with a team option for the 2024 season. It’s been a tough year for Votto. He had surgery to repair tears in both his rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder in August 2022 and returned to play in June. Remarkably, Votto hit his 350th career home run on July 18, becoming the second Reds player to reach that mark ever.

In terms of Canadian players, he is second only to Larry Walker who amassed 383 home runs in a 17-year career. But Votto is modest about his achievements, “There are plenty of very good Canadian baseball players. It’s an honour to be in this group.

Prior to his being on the 10-day injured list in August, he had 355 runs under his belt. In true Votto style, he returned to play on September 10, his 40th birthday, and hit a 437-foot home run, the longest across all of the MLB on that day.

Looking ahead

After hitting his 350th home run, Votto, sporting the team’s post- run Viking garb, shares a moment with teammate Elly De La Cruz.

Votto’s determination and focus have served him well in the past. “I focus all of my energy on the next day. I try to maintain the habit of only looking forward. Two reasons, first, I owe it to the fans. I owe them my very best now and beyond. Second, the game is terribly difficult and only gets more difficult as one gets older. I want to dedicate my concentration to keeping up with the league as it is.”

He is committed to giving every last bit of himself to the game and toward that end follows a strict regime and depends on routine. “I try to make sure I am prepared to the maximum each game I play.” That routine was disrupted somewhat with the “MLB at Field of Dreams” game in Dyersville, Iowa, next to the historic filming site of the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams, in August of 2022.

In an online post Votto asks viewers to give him a thumbs up if they think driving a bus is cool.

It was an emotional event for Votto, who lost his father in 2008. Father and son would play catch daily and young Votto was instilled with a love of the game, not unlike the final scene of Field of Dreams. “I am dead set on routine, but I could accommodate it [the game] because it was pretty special.”

In the long-term, Votto shares that he wants to “complete my degree in Spanish, possibly pursue a chef degree/licence, travel and spend time with family.” But there could be some surprises − to hear Votto tell it, you may see him driving a big yellow school bus.

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