Last week, the Cincinnati Reds gave Joey Votto a new contract, paying him $38 million for the next three years. This story was just another reminder to Canadian baseball fans that Votto has made it big in Major League Baseball.
Votto was always determined to become a professional baseball player. This became clear to coaches at Richview Collegiate Institute in his hometown of Etobicoke when Votto would spend at least two hours in the indoor batting cage almost every day. As a sign that Votto possessed confidence in addition to commitment, he began using a wooden bat in high school. This meant he was willing to sacrifice short-term gains with the more difficult bat in an effort to get a leg up on his future competition in the minor leagues. The move didn’t hurt Votto’s draft stock, with the Cincinnati Reds selecting him in the second round of the 2002 draft.
From there Votto began a five-year journey through the minor leagues. In 2003, in class A of the Reds’ farm system, he had an impressive batting average of .317 in his first 70 games but with just six home runs he still had a lot of work to do. Hitting for contact and getting on base simply wasn’t good enough for Votto to become the slugger and future clean-up hitter that the Reds’ scouts envisioned.
Upon being promoted to the high A level later that year, Votto struggled mightily for the final 60 games of the 2003 season, hitting just .231 with only one home run. After that rough end to the 2003 season, Votto bounced back with a .301 batting average, 19 homers, and 92 RBIs in 2004. From that point on, Votto dominated the minor leagues, hitting for both power and contact. After two seasons in 2006 and 2007 in AA and AAA where Votto hit nearly .300 and for more than 20 home runs, it became clear that he had proven enough at the minor league level.
Votto’s first season in Cincinnati mirrored the start to his minor league career, as his power numbers were all that held him back from becoming a star. To be clear, Votto had a tremendous first season for a young first baseman. In 2008, his first significant exposure to the league, he hit .297 with an on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS) of .874 to go along with his 24 home runs and 84 RBIs. Votto’s power numbers were virtually identical the following year with 25 home runs and 84 RBIs, but his batting average rose to .322 and OPS to .981. Votto missed 31 games due to a battle with depression following the loss of his father that season, meaning his jump to elite status in OPS and batting average would have taken place alongside a considerable boost in the power department.
In 2010, Votto took his place among the best hitters in the league, officially reaching the superstar status he had dedicated himself to achieving since his days in the indoor batting cage at Richview. His power numbers were finally there, as he belted 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. What made his season truly astounding was his consistency across the board, with 16 stolen bases, a batting average of .324, and an OPS just over .1000. Joey Votto was the complete package, and as a result, that year, he was awarded the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Votto’s success on the field has not been the only thing to win him over with the fans. His openness about his battle with depression after his father died shows an honesty that we aren’t used to seeing from professional athletes. Still, sports fans will always remain results-oriented at their core. As such, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally see a Canadian, and not one from British Columbia, dominating America’s favourite pastime in every possible way.