When I first began writing for Redleg Nation and scrolled through the list of post categories, I experienced zero surprise when I ran across one titled “Joey Votto” and another called “Joey Votto Is Perfect.” For he is, and why not devote an entire subcategory to the matter?
By this, of course, I don’t mean that Joey Votto was born without original sin. That distinction goes only to Jesus Christ and perhaps also George Strait. By “perfect” I mean that he is at precisely the right place at precisely the right time. (Redleg Nation also offers a post category entitled “Poopy Pants,” however, so perhaps it’s not quite the stamp of immortality I first assumed it was.)
Votto became my emotional adoption project when I first heard in 2009 that he battled severe depression and anxiety throughout his rookie year in the wake of his father’s sudden death. He was my freak-out buddy. This was before social media cast the human race into one giant unending World Championship of Whining; people didn’t speak of such things, particularly 25-year-old Major Leauge baseball players. Since then, Votto secured my attachment through his play and general conduct as a non-horrible human being, a thing uneasily difficult to find in professional sports.
Votto’s early obstacle course of grief, embarrassment, and self-awareness, has, I believe, not only produced the greatest hitter this franchise has ever seen, but one who was refined by an early bout of tribulation into the kind of man who requires no Twitter account to affirm his greatness. The kind of man who sees a paper airplane on the field and reacts like this, then give zero craps when the home fan reaction is this:
It also grants him the freedom to participate in the following interview, which, if you haven’t seen either in part or its entirety, you must watch and pass on to everyone you have ever met:
This is the full range of Joey Votto– hilarious, self-deprecating, and fully serious and intelligent. His humor is situational and self-focused rather than at the expense of another player, his concern for Jim Day’s new segment is entirely fake, and his concern with hitting and winning is entirely real.
I once met a member of the Reds media team who told me that on the team bus and plane, while the other Reds are lost in phone scrolling or headphones, Votto’s head is in a book. Like, an actual book. About such subjects as brain chemistry. If he so chooses to remain with the game when his playing days are done, he will make for a commentator who actually enhances the broadcast experience, rather than inciting remote-into-screen violence.
It would be easy for the National Leauge’s 2010 MVP to transact his life as one giant round of Grand Theft Auto– a .428 OBP will earn you that kind of industry pass–but Votto has instead proven a stable clubhouse leader and model of diligence. He lives in the film room, views his competitors as teachers, learned Spanish so as to communicate more easily with his teammates, and takes grounders when his peers are already hitting the Glendale Bar Louie.
I’ve seen the man’s locker. There’s not much in it, although Votto has garnered the rare clubhouse honor of a double-wide cubby. Maybe some golf clubs show up in there from time to time. But mostly not… mostly nothing. His rightfully claimed territory is so clean, in fact, that it prompted trade rumor hysteria in 2014. Joey Votto doesn’t require tchotchkes or an avalanche of inspirational signs to remind him of who he is or where he’s going.
Some fan’s greatest fear for Joey Votto is that he will grow up to be the Ken Griffey Jr. of this generation: Great but ringless. My fear is even farther-reaching (of course it is, I’m diagnosed, pill-popping depression and anxiety patient): That he will be great but ringless… and unrecognized. Votto’s self-assurance and avoidance of Instagram followers and sneaker deals in an era when importance is measured in such ways means he is at risk for missing his rightful places in both the Reds Hall of Fame as well as Cooperstown.
I once heard a priest say that life isn’t a roller coaster, always headed up or always clacking down. It is, instead, a perfectly ordinary flat train balanced on both rails, one rail presenting negatives and the other positives. One side provides comfort for the difficulties of the other. It’s up to us to decide which window we look out of.
It is easy, in a string of seasons such as these, to glare out the side of the car featuring unending pitcher nightmares, a lack of front office creativity, a lack of just about everything everywhere. But on the other side of the train rides Joey Votto, stomping airplanes and batting .319.