Griffin: Spotlight still not shining on Joey Votto and he loves it
KANSAS CITY--The Cincinnati Reds first-baseman, all-star starting first baseman, Etobicoke native and the game's best hitter sat patiently at his table in the workout day interview room, talking to three Canadian journalists while others in the room, like Nationals rookies Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were swarmed by the riff-raff of North American sports journalism. Votto made a sweeping gesture.
“As you can see, I've probably got one of the smallest crowds (looking for interviews),” Votto pointed to the throngs sweeping by. “I play in a market where I don't get as much attention and that's great. That's another way to avoid getting crushed. Playing in Cincinnati helps quite a bit. I can just work on my craft and be the best I can. I don't have to deal with a lot of the riff-raff.
"The riff-raff can get you places. You might start an All-Star Game because of that. I don't feel the spotlight. I don't have much of a spotlight. That comes with the MVP Award and that was a couple of years ago. I always told myself if I could get through that I could get through just about anything. I thought I was going to get crushed and it ended up being really light, which was great.”
Votto as a child in Etobicoke and a young teenager growing up had a lot of dreams about being a major-leaguer. He believes the years from 12-20 are more than just formative, they are imperative to the goal. If you wait beyond that to find your passion, then it's too late.
“I was pushing myself, I always wanted to get out and go to the ballpark, do baseball things,” Votto recalled of growing up a diamond rat in Toronto.
“I was a kid, but there was a point where I saw a player, (Cambridge-native and former Braves prospect) Scott Thorman, who was a first-round draft pick and he signed for all that money. More importantly, he received all the attention in Canada and I thought, boy, that would be really cool to come close to that or be drafted and I thought this was like this impossible phantom that I was chasing.
"I ended up doing well for myself.”
The impossible phantom has evolved into a perennial all-star and the game's best hitter. Votto will never turn down the honour of attending the All-Star Game, in fact he would miss it. It's part of his DNA now, part of his reason for playing, what constantly drives him to excel.
“The achievement,” Votto said in explaining his drive to not have four days off in July. “There's nothing like looking at your Baseball Reference numbers and seeing an AS (All Star) there. If you see a season without that it's, 'What happened there?'”
But he still does not take it for granted that he will either be voted in by the fans, the players or added by the manager. It's a constant struggle to excel.
“It's odd this year not having Albert Pujols here,” Votto pointed out. “He's a perennial guy. You expect him to be here. You can never get too far ahead of yourself. Generally the right players end up here, but there are some exceptions. Like Albert Pujols. There are the guys you don't expect to be here who have the phenomenal first halves. They're not sneaking in, they definitely deserve to be here. You've got to play well all the time. That's the nature of our game.”
Votto maintains that he has never read any of the potentially ego-boosting features that maintain he may be the best hitter – no, the best player in the game. He's too busy trying to get better.
“I don't consider myaself that,” Votto said. “I don't think along those lines. I don't factor that in. It's not something that I mull over often. All I think about is trying to achieve that level. I'm always refining. I stil have improvements to make at the plate. I give away the occasional at-bat, nowhere as much as I used to. But if I give away one in 50, that's still one in 50.”
That's pretty much the loftiest goal to have in a game that grinds you down, a marathon in which you may come to the plate 700 times over 162 games against pitchers that have studied video and broken you down looking for weaknesses. It's about the adjustments.
“To have the perfect at-bat every time is a difficult thing, whether or not you've done all the homework behind the scenes, whether or not you're physically ready,” Votto said.
“I have to when I'm not feeling great, ask myself, are you ready? Are you ready for this at-bat. A while back Albert Pujols said something along the lines of he treats every at-bat like it's the last of his career. That's the perfect approach. Not just the last at-bat, but sometimes I'll step out and ask, is this the last pitch? Are You ready for this pitch? The same thing needs to happen on the defensive end. Sometimes at-bats can get carried over to the defensive end. I strive to be the best in that category also.”
Even if Votto ias not currently the best player in baseball, he has to be in the conversation, with his ability to hit to all field, defend his position and run the bases better than most at his position.
“I never feel that way, I always aspire to be that way,” the 28-year-old said. “Not the best hitter. I aspire to be the best (player). I take pride in my entire game.
“I know it's difficult as a first baseman, but I saw Albert do it for eight years. Playing (first-base) you have to be at another level offensively. You need to be an elite defender. You need to be able to run the bases. You need to be a complete player. The guys that play centre field, shortstop, catcher, usually get a bid of a lead. I know what I have to work on. I don't get ahead of myself. I don't think too highly of myself. I try to stay grounded and from there, I think that's one of my better characteristics.”
Votto recently signed a mega-contract – 10 years, $225 million through 2023 -- to stay in Cincinnati, making him the highest-paid Canadian athlete in pro sport history. He never thinks about the money, but others do and that's what makes Votto special among today's superstars and why his droll sense of humour, sense of normalcy and his genuine personality are able to stay the same.