By Bob Elliot
As always, Joey Votto was polite.
"Sorry to call back so late," Votto said. "And I'm in a car, so it might be noisy."
A few minutes of conversation later the Cincinnati Reds first baseman excused himself as he bought a drink and popcorn at the Showcase Cinemas Dayton South to see a late showing of The Hangover Sunday night.
Votto was at class-A Dayton, Ohio, on a rehab assignment.
Yet Votto will be where he wants to be tonight when the Reds' three-game series at Rogers Centre begins. After four rehab starts, Votto is in Toronto and could be activated for the opener.
Votto has not played for Cincinnati since May 29 when he was placed on the disabled list with what the Reds called "stress-related issues."
"Ideally, I want to be there as soon as possible," Votto said late Sunday. "The way I feel, what I describe to the team ... it's all positive, but they'll let me know.
"I spoke to the trainers and they'll come to the conclusion, I really don't know if I can be there. I know I want to be there."
Votto was scheduled to play at either double-A Carolina or triple-A Louisville last night, but was given the day off after two weekend games in Dayton and two at Sarasota.
While the Reds' visit has been circled by Votto's former Etobicoke Rangers teammates since the schedule came out, for Votto's younger brothers Tyler, 20, and nine-year-old twins Ryan and Paul, they weren't looking forward to a chance to see him play.
"They just want to see me," Votto said. "Since my father just passed (in August, 2008), I have to do a better job. My youngest brothers have been to Cincinnati and to Chicago to see me. I'd like to spend more time with them.
"I might arrange for them to fly on their own. They are such young guys and our clubhouse is such a good place for young kids to hang out. Our team has about five kids, some are about the same age, running around all the time."
Votto missed five games and left two others while feeling dizzy during mid-May because of an inner-ear infection. Votto said: "They got that (inner-ear) thing solved."
He has not as yet discussed the current reason for being inactive.
"Sometime in the near future I'll make a statement," Votto said.
In Cincy some fans are demanding an answer. Votto does not owe anyone an answer. This is not a pulled groin, or a shoulder injury.
It is private.
It is personal.
The Reds are being patient, so should fans.
Votto singled in the tying run and scored the winner as the Dayton Dragons beat the West Michigan Whitecaps 7-6 Sunday. On Saturday, he hit the first pitch he saw over the right-field fence on to a grassy knoll at Fifth Third Field Park before 9,507 fans.
"The fans gave me a big ovation," said Votto, who played in Dayton in 2003-04.
He also singled and knocked in three runs. As big-leaguers do on minor-league assignments, he treated the minor-leaguers to a catered post-game dinner from an Italian restaurant.
Votto, who stays in close contact with his former coach Bob Smyth, now of Ladysmith, B.C., played six innings in both games at Sarasota. He was hitless in two at-bats against class-A Clearwater on Thursday. He was 2-for-4, including three stolen bases, in an intrasquad game among rookie-class Gulf Coast League Reds on Friday. Votto's treat was Chipotle Mexican food.
"You spent too much time there to think minor-league life was 100 years ago but I'm glad that stage of my career is over," Votto said. "I'm getting my timing back. Dusty Baker has been very generous and very good to me,"
Votto, 25, was hitting .357 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 38 games this season before being sidelined.
"I love travelling to cities for the first time," Votto said. "To be able to call Toronto, the most special city in the world, my home, it's hard for it not to be my favourite city."