I live in Buckeye Arizona which is about 10 minutes from Goodyear ballpark the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians spring training home. This year I saw over 20 live Cincinnati Reds spring training games, and spent quite a few days on the back fields to watch the team I grew up idolizing. During this time I noticed a definite change in one ball player in particular. A ball player who in the past few seasons had been distant, not a jerk, but distant with the fans. He would wave, or flash a smile, but would do so from a distance as though he was scared of fans.
This year seemed to be a turning point for Joey Votto. He was seemingly coming out of his shell first in the off-season as he was on Cincinnati’s largest radio station 700WLW with Lance McAlister almost every week for an hour. He seemed to be embracing the fans more and more each week as they embraced him back. During spring training when the p.a. announcer would say his name, he would thrust his right hand into the air and motion to the capacity crowd to their delight. This was emotion I had never seen from him in spring trainings in the past. I saw him sign autographs more (even one for me) and interact with fans more. Red’s fans were talking about it. I struck up many conversations with many fans about this new-found excitement outwardly shown by Joey. I hope he is finally putting everything together having dealt with the depression and anxiety that caused him to miss time in 2009 dealing with the sudden death of his father and the injury he suffered in 2012 that required arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. This is important to the fans and the franchise considering he signed a 10 year $225 million dollar contract through 2024 with the Reds or if you take into account it included his two previous years were included it was for 12 years and for $251.5 million. At the time, it was the longest deal in baseball and the 4th largest in MLB history as well as the longest guaranteed in MLB history making him the highest paid Canadian born baseball player ever.
Joey Votto not only started coming out of his shell this year, but he earned my respect this year . I personally witnessed him one-hoping balls of the center field wall one after the other, yet could hear him frustrated with himself. Grumbling and groaning to himself in the batting cage on the practice fields. And during one of the last games of the spring training season against Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox he was so mad at himself that he broke his bat on the ground and slammed his helmet on a called third strike. Then his next at bat, before the at bat began, he made sure the umpire knew that he was not mad at him for the call but he was mad at himself for the complexity of the previous at bat as a whole. I watched a lot of games this spring, I saw a lot of players just go through the motions. But it was refreshing to see a man who knew when to have a good time and sign autographs, yet also knew when to be serious and concentrate on his craft. Maybe that is why Joey Votto has a career .314 average in the majors, to go along with his .540 slugging percentage and .959 career on base plus slugging percentage. When I was watching Intentional Talk on Tuesday I witnessed him give the best interview in baseball and my respect meter went up even more.