Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto dressed up like a Mountie for a hilarious interview last week on MLB Network's "Intentional Talk" where he sassed hosts Kevin Millar and Chris Rose. On Tuesday, MLB Network aired another interview with Votto, this one was much more somber and revealing, as he opened up about the sudden death of his father in 2008 and how it affected him.
Those are two sides of Joey Votto we don't usually see. We're used to another side of Votto — his workman-like approach to playing baseball. He's a former National League MVP whose patience and precision are among his top traits on a baseball field.
In 2008, Votto was a different guy — a rookie trying to make an impact on the Reds. He hit .297 that season, with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Yet, if you ask Votto about that season and the next, he'd call them his personal hell.
The death of his father in the summer of 2008 hit him hard. His father, Joseph, was the first one to teach Votto to play baseball, and still offered his son hitting advice when he hit the big leagues.
While he was becoming one of MLB's most productive players — he had a WAR of 4.8 in 2009 followed by a career-high 6.9 in 2010 MVP season — Votto often found himself paralyzed by anxiety and dwelling in depression. There was a point in the 2009 season where he was on the disabled list because of "stress-related issues."
Talking to MLB Network's Sam Ryan recently, Votto said: "2010 wasn't great," even though he won the MVP, hitting .324/.424/.600 with 113 RBIs. Votto says it took him three years to feel better, tipping his cap to doctors who listened to him and helped him work through his issues.
"Eventually," Votto says, "I came out on the other side and I've learned a great deal.
"I know that had I not gotten help, I probably wouldn't be here today talking to you about this. Fortunately, I don't have to do the 'What if?' "
It's fascinating to hear Votto speak publicly about this, because so often in sports, athletes don't let the public see their personal vulnerability. Sports are still fueled by machismo, so talking about things like depression and anxiety isn't the norm.
Look at the recent Daniel Murphy saga. The New York Mets second baseman was loudly criticized for taking three days of paternity leave to be with his wife and first child. The game, his critics said, was more important. One day of paternity should have been enough.
It's a reminder that showing emotion in sports beyond "yay, we won" and "boo, we lost" takes guts. So in that respect, bravo, Joey Votto.
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