Reds' Canadian slugger aiming for big 2008
Jeremy Sandler, National Post Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008
Atmosphere, more than accomplishment, marked what Joey Votto remembers as his "major-league moment."
Votto was called up by the Cincinnati Reds last September and hit a home run in his second big league at-bat - both big events for the 24-year-old Toronto native - but it was while he was striking out a couple of weeks later when he sensed he had arrived. It was the ninth inning at Chicago's Wrigley Field and Votto was the last batter.
"The crowd was insane, everyone was standing up and everyone was screaming, it was just so much to take in," Votto said. "I really just relished the moment and I felt like this is where I belong, this is really just my dream coming true."
To an outside observer, Votto's 2007 season looked like a dream come true.
The most valuable player in the Double-A Southern League in 2006, Votto made the Triple-A all-star team last season, hitting .294 with 22 home runs and 94 RBIs for the Reds' top affiliate in Louisville, Ky.
Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said the organization considered bringing Votto up several times, but ultimately left him at Triple-A until September. He hit.321 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 24 games with the Reds.
Votto is well versed in how important ageing can be to achieve perfection. His father Joe used to be the chef at Toronto's Island Yacht Club, while his mother Wendy is lead sommelier at Via Allegro, one of the city's finest restaurants. But stay in the minors was an exercise in frustration for the first baseman and outfielder.
"I just felt I was being held back while I was in Louisville," he said. "It was hard. It was something I had to deal with every day. It drove me crazy.
"When I finally got called up I felt a real relief, I felt like all the frustration I had during the season staying in Louisville was gone and I finally got to play the game I felt I deserved to play."
Those who have watched him - from Bob Smyth, the Etobicoke Canadians coach who watched an adolescent Votto put in five hours a day at a batting cage, to Krisky, the Cincinnati GM - know he put in the work to reach the major leagues.
"They say he is one of the hardest workers you're ever going to meet," said Kevin Briand, director of Canadian scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays. "I've been told that by about six different coaches and that's a real credit to him when almost everybody, to a person, says he's a very hard worker."
Should Votto deliver on the promise he has shown so far, he would be the latest in what has become a steady stream of Canadians making an impact as big-league hitters.
Where Canada's roster of major-league hitting stars once began and ended at Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C. - with a nod to the likes of Terry Puhl, Corey Koskie and Matt Stairs - the list has grown steadily in recent years.
Votto hopes he can join 2004 National League rookie of the year Jason Bay, 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau and 2007 NL all-star catcher Russell Martin.
Though he spent some time in the outfield last season, Votto figures to battle with the Scott Hatteberg for the Reds' first base job.
"I let the players compete in spring training, but certainly Joey's earned a good look," Krivsky said. "We're looking for big things from him here down the road."
"My expectations are to play every single game," Votto said. "Whether or not they're realistic, I don't know.
"I want to stay in the major leagues from this point on. That's my goal and that's what it should be. We'll see."