Joey Votto, Reds 1B, Player Profile
On March 9th, 2009, when Joey Votto stepped to the plate for Team Canada in their first game of the World Baseball Classic against Team U.S.A., he looked much more at home than what might have been expected for the young Reds first baseman. Though his home park is now in Cincinnati, this was a full-circle moment, and a homecoming for Votto after a breakout first major league season in 2008, and a moment for which he had spent most of his 25 years preparing. His comfort at the plate in the Rogers Centre belied his one season of experience against the top major league pitching he would face, and the pressure of the boisterous, emotionally charged atmosphere and sellout crowd for a big-time baseball game that have in recent years become almost as scarce in Toronto as Stanley Cup parades. Votto thrived under this pressure, going 4 for 5 that day, with an RBI double off J.J. Putz in the ninth inning that put his team within one run in a close game (after he hit, Justin Morneau and Jason Bay didn’t fare as well, and were retired to preserve American victory).
Though his team fell short on that day, it was clear that Votto belonged in the company of everyone else on that field that day. Though playing in Toronto is a homecoming for most Canadian ballplayers, it was especially true for Joey Votto, having grown up in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, and having plenty of time to focus on stepping onto that field as a player one day, as he worked a part-time job in the (pre-naming rights) Skydome as a teenager. Votto may not be the only stadium employee to daydream at work about being a player instead, but he is surely in select company as someone who actually made that happen.
When Votto steps on the field this week for opening day in a different red uniform than that of his country, he does so with every expectation from fans and teammates that at 25, with one year’s experience under his belt, he will be one of the leaders on his Cincinnati Reds team. A second round draft pick in 2002, Votto was a slow starter, taking four seasons to advance to AA; however, in 2006, he broke out as a player, conquering three levels in two years, being called up to the big club late in the 2007 season, and immediately asserting himself as a player who would not be returning to the minor leagues any time soon. In his first full season of major league work, Votto didn’t disappoint, being a major cog in the Reds’ offense, hitting .297, with 24 home runs and 84 RBI. Since his 2006 breakout season, Votto has not hit for an average lower than .294, or fewer than 22 home runs in a season at any level. He is expected to be a leader on the field for the Reds, and produce runs now, and because of his young age, for years to come as well.