3/4/2013 3:35 P.M. ET
Votto to play for Team Canada in Classic
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds first baseman Joey Votto tested his surgically repaired left knee throughout the early weeks of Spring Training. The results have been satisfying enough to make Votto comfortable about participating in the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada.
Votto announced that he would play for his country on Monday after making the decision Sunday night.
"I look forward to playing for the team," Votto said. "I look forward to being a part of the tournament. I had a great time the last time. I'm very grateful I'm on the team. It's not very often you get to represent your country in a big tournament like this. I never got to play in the Olympics, this is the next best thing."
Team Canada began its workouts at Goodyear Ballpark on Monday and will be joined by Votto on Thursday for a final workout at Chase Field before the first-round game on Friday vs. Italy at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Also in the same round-robin pool are teams from the United States and Mexico.
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Votto said he would not play in the Wednesday exhibition between the Reds and Canada.
The choice to play for Canada came after considerable deliberation on Votto's part. He missed six weeks of last season when he twice needed arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. The 30-year-old returned in September to finish the regular season and take part in the playoffs, but was far below 100 percent healthy.
After a winter of rehabilitation, Votto has hit safely in five of his eight spring games while batting .375 (6-for-16) with two doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He has shown no signs of favoring the knee and has avoided any setbacks, but he's yet to play a full game in the early going.
Votto waited as long as he could before informing Canada of his decision.
"I needed the games. I wanted to make sure my knee was headed in the right direction, was healthy," Votto said. "I feel confident. I feel as though I can comfortably play and not be concerned about it. I've never been hurt before. I just wanted a little more of a grace period before the tournament to make sure I'm ready for the Reds and my primary commitment prepare to be part of a championship team in 2013."
It remained unclear whether Votto would play first base or serve as the designated hitter for Canada.
"I imagine I will probably share time with another former Most Valuable Player," Votto said, referring to Twins first baseman and British Columbia native Justin Morneau.
Canada did not include Votto on its provisional roster released in January but placed him on the final roster at the deadline last month. The country was given no assurances that Votto would in fact play, however.
"I'm sorry to any of the fans if this affected their plans in any way," Votto told assembled reporters, which included several members of the Canadian media. "I had some former coaches of mine that I'm very close with still that canceled their trips because of the uncertainty. If anybody canceled their trip [to Arizona], I am sorry."
Votto finished the 2012 season batting .337 in 111 games with 14 home runs, 56 RBIs, a league-leading 94 walks and a 1.074 OPS.
Because he did not end the year on the disabled list, the Reds could not have stood in Votto's way if he wanted to play in the Classic. The club was supportive of his choice.
"If he's OK, I am for his decision," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He says he's OK. If he's not OK, he's not going to say he's OK. The way I look at it is, Joey is kind of the top man in Canada, as far as baseball is concerned. He's like a national treasure."
Votto also received the thumbs-up from Reds CEO Bob Castellini and general manager Walt Jocketty.
"[Castellini] made it pretty clear he wanted me to play for Canada," Votto said. "Dusty was very supportive. Walt was very supportive. All they wanted to know was whether or not I was healthy and I could handle the load. I have proven that through the games. I intend on doing the best I can to prepare for the season coupled with playing in the tournament."
During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Votto took part as Canada was eliminated in the first round in games played at Rogers Centre in his hometown of Toronto.
"I would imagine the Canadian baseball people were pretty embarrassed by it," Votto said. "I know I was pretty disappointed. We're playing good competition. We'll do the best you can and if you lose, you turn the page. We only had two games and we were knocked out. I don't care about the past tournament -- it's not going to ignite me one way or the other. I will play hard, try and play well and help the team win."