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06/24/08 8:31 PM ET

Votto welcomed home to boyhood dream

Toronto-area native relishes chance to play in familiar turf

TORONTO -- When Joey Votto emerged from the clubhouse and into the visitors' dugout at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, he was greeted by an unusually large group of reporters. After all, the Toronto-area native was set to make his first career appearance in a Major League game on his home country's soil.

"It feels good," Votto said with a smile, prior to the Reds' game against the Blue Jays. "It's something that I was looking forward to doing since I was a little boy. I'm very excited to be here."

Votto, who resides in the nearby town of Brampton, Ontario, said there would be several family and friends in attendance for the game. However, the first baseman, who was slotted in the No. 5 spot in the Reds' lineup on Tuesday, said that having family and friends in the stands would not affect his game.

"From when the game starts, I'll be ready to go," said Votto. "It's my job, and I have a responsibility to the rest of my teammates to do my very best and be ready for pitch No. 1."

An ironic twist to Votto's return home was that it also came on the same day that Cito Gaston was making his return to Rogers Centre as manager of the Blue Jays. Gaston, who had managed Toronto from 1989-97, was rehired by the Jays in Pittsburgh on Friday when former skipper John Gibbons was dismissed.

Votto grew up a Blue Jays fan and fondly remembers Gaston from when he lead the team to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and '93.

"Honestly, I'm a Cincinnati Red, but I can't help but have fond memories of Cito Gaston and the '92 and '93 Toronto Blue Jays," he said. "I guess you'd say it's ironic, but I'd have a hard time looking over there and not seeing that guy who used to manage such great teams."

In 73 games this year, Votto has hit .293 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs. As well, the 24-year-old has ranked tops among rookies in several offensive categories.

Votto is also a part of the growing number of Canadian-born players enjoying success in the Majors. With All-Stars such as Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Russell Martin of the Dodgers hailing from north of the border, Canada is starting to gain a more prominent role in producing impact Major League players.

"I've been noticing big improvement in Canadian national teams when they go to the World games or Little League World Series," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "Baseball is getting big up here. Good players come from up here. I'm sure Joey is going to help promote that."

Baker also said he is impressed with what Votto has provided the Reds so far this season. Entering Tuesday's game, among players with a minimum of 200 at-bats, Votto's .293 batting average leads the team.

"He's strong. He's fast. Good arm, works hard, studies," Baker said. "He's a quick learner, real respectful. He's going to be one of the leaders on this team. He doesn't get out of line. I tell him something and he accepts it and says, 'Don't worry skip, it won't happen again.'

"He's the kind of guy you like to have around. His mom and dad did a great job."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.