Votto ready to make mark in Classic
Childhood Jays fan wouldn't mind following in Carter's shoes
By Kevin Glew / Special to MLB.com
"I was watching the game with my family at my parents' place," recalled the young Reds slugger, who was a 10-year-old Blue Jays fan at the time.
Votto hopes to author his own Carter moment when he competes for Canada in the first round of the World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre in March.
"It's pretty special to be able to play for your country, but to be able to play in front of friends and family, and then afterwards go home and enjoy the experience with them, is going to make it extra special," said Votto.
With a pitching staff decimated by injuries (Rich Harden, Erik Bedard and Jeff Francis) and Ryan Dempster opting not to participate, the Canadian squad will rely on its offense to be competitive. With Votto and 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau, Team Canada should have no problem generating offense from its first basemen.
Votto realizes that Morneau, a perennial MVP candidate and leader on the Canadian squad, will likely see the bulk of the first-base action.
"Whatever the manager wants me to do, I'll do. I just want to help the team. But obviously, I want to play," said Votto.
Ernie Whitt, manager of the Canadian team, says Votto doesn't have to worry about sitting on the bench.
"Both Joey and Justin are going to play. They'll both be in the lineup. ... That's the beauty of the World Baseball Classic, we've got the DH rule. It helps that we're not playing National League rules, so it gives us an extra bat," he said.
Greg Hamilton, Canada's general manager, shares similar sentiments.
"We'll have Justin at first. And obviously Joey is a guy that can DH for us, and he's played a little bit of outfield as well. That's not to say from time to time that Joey might not get a little time at first," he explained. "Joey is going to be an integral part of our lineup offensively."
It was while in high school at Toronto's Richview Collegiate Institute that Votto began to focus on a career in professional baseball. Drafted by Cincinnati in the second round of 2002 First-Year Player Draft, the Reds cornerstone made his Major League debut on Sept. 4, 2007.
The highlight of his young big league career is his three-home run performance against the Chicago Cubs on May 7, 2008.
"I wanted that fourth one, too. In my last at-bat, I was sitting on a changeup and I got it and I took it, and then I thought, 'There goes my chance,' " he recounted. "I ended up grounding out to the shortstop."
Votto joined Morneau and Larry Walker as the only Canadians to slug three home runs in a big league game. His hat from that game now resides in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario.
That power outburst accounted for three of the 24 homers Votto slugged in his rookie campaign. He also hit .297 and put up a Reds rookie record 84 runs (surpassing Hall of Famer Frank Robinson's previous mark).
"When I look back, I can think of 50 times where I could've done something to push myself over .300," said Votto, who's always looking to improve.
The budding star also played with Ken Griffey Jr., one of his childhood heroes, for much of last season.
"That was very special. I played his video game when I was growing up. I even wore my hat backwards like him," said Votto.
And while the Canadian first baseman didn't talk to the future Hall of Famer very much, he learned a lot from Griffey's approach.
"He's a true professional. He was very focussed on the field. He was always locked in when he played," said Votto.
The promising Reds slugger has been training in Florida this winter. He hopes to improve on his rookie season in 2009, but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Canuck avoids setting statistical goals.
"I just want to go out there and play the game hard and play the game right," he said.
But for now, the Toronto native has his sights set on helping his country advance in the World Baseball Classic and perhaps authoring his own Carter moment in the stadium he grew up cheering his beloved Blue Jays in.
Kevin Glew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.