All business: Votto ducks limelight as All-Star
Reds first baseman expects to make Midsummer Classic, doesn't need attention
KANSAS CITY -- Joey Votto collects hits, not heirlooms, and so he was not planning to bring back many mementos from his latest All-Star experience."I'll have my jersey signed and my bat signed [by the other members of the National League team]," he said. "That's about it." This, it seems, is a minimalist memorabilia mentality that perfectly suits the decidedly low-key demeanor of one of the game's greatest sluggers. Votto doesn't want attention, doesn't want accolades, doesn't want artifacts. He simply wants to be the best player in all of Major League Baseball. Is that too much to ask?
For Votto, it might not be, given his career trajectory. And finally, with Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, the last two NL starters at first base, departed from both the division and the league, Votto was able this year to assume his rightful place in the starting lineup. Manager Tony La Russa even went so far as to slot him in the cleanup spot -- a place Votto, ordinarily a No. 3, has batted just 22 times in his career but a place that suits his reputation for delivering in the clutch.Knee issues threatened Votto's availability for this game, but he wound up getting a customary All-Star starter's workload with three at-bats at Kauffman Stadium. He struck out once and grounded out twice before giving way to the Cardinals' David Freese in the middle of the fifth. Votto didn't make the big impact in the NL's big 8-0 win that he had hoped for, but he did take simple satisfaction in starting versus subbing. "Big difference," he said. "It makes a difference, because [when you're a sub] you never know when you're going to get called in the middle of the game, and you've got to get warmed up and you're nervous. Starting, you can work on a standard routine. And I think there's a pride to it, too, to get your name called and hear the applause. Everybody knows who the starters are." And everybody knows who Votto is, even if he takes little pleasure in the attention. If anything, Votto, who famously signed a 10-year, $225 million extension earlier this year, relishes playing in a small market where his routine is rarely interrupted by the frequent media requests. And even here at the All-Star Game, it's noticeable how few reporters crowd around Votto, even though he posts the kind of numbers (his 1.087 OPS at the break is the best in baseball) that can leave fans and scribes breathless. But his talent rightly thrust him into the starting lineup spotlight. "Joey is more of a low-key guy," said Jay Bruce, who joined Votto on the All-Star squad for the second straight year. "But he understands that, being as good as he is, you're going to have events like this, and he does very well with it." As he dressed for Tuesday's game, Votto was asked if the inner kid comes out at times like these, surrounded by the game's top talent, which included Bruce, who went 0-for-2, and reliever Aroldis Chapman, who pitched one-third of an inning, logging a walk to Mike Trout and a strikeout of Mark Trumbo. Votto smiled at the query. "I enjoy this as an adult," he said. "The kid doesn't come out in me. But it is fun being in a relaxed atmosphere with a bunch of great players that you watch, compete against and admire." The admiration runs both ways. David Wright, who, like Votto, has put up MVP-type numbers thus far this season, dressed at the locker next to Votto's and marveled at the approach his NL teammate takes to each at-bat. "It would be difficult to find a guy who has more of a plan and more of a sense of his swing and his approach than him," Wright said. "I think he's one of the best, if not the best, hitter in baseball. You see a guy that understands what he's capable of doing and the approach that he takes, and it's amazing to watch. There are just no holes. If you're lucky enough to get him out once, you're not going to get him out the next time, and that's very, very rare." These All-Star appearances have become anything but rare for Votto, but that doesn't mean he doesn't savor them. At the end of each season, he pulls up his Baseball Reference page to scope out his stats. And when he does so this year, he'll see a third straight "AS" in the last column, denoting his All-Star selection. "If you go a season without that," he said, "it's like, 'What the heck happened there?' It's something I look forward to each year. If I get the full four days off, it's kind of bittersweet."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.