GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Depending where you look, the Cincinnati Reds are about the seventh or eighth favorite to win the World Series this season, usually at odds around 10-to-1. The Reds are also the defending NL Central champs. They won the division in 2010 too, both times getting knocked out in National League Division Series.
Those are two ways of illustrating what everybody in baseball knows: The Reds are contenders.
Joey Votto, the team's biggest star, knows this too. But here's the thing about Votto: He's not an in-your-face kind of guy. He's the guy who talks about "playing his role" — as if he were a utility player, not a perennial MVP candidate who can be depended upon for 30 homers, 100 RBIs, .315 batting average and a WAR that's usually above 6.
But ask him how important winning a World Series is to him and listen to him answer with quiet intensity.
"At this point for me," says Votto, 29, "it's the most important thing in my career. In the past, as a young player, you want to earn a contract, you want some individual achievements. You don't know why you want to win. As you play a bit more, it's very common for players as they age — and I'm certainly not in that category — but players as they age, the one thing that's missing is winning and being on a World Series championship team."
Votto's won an MVP. He's an all-star three years running. He signed the huge 10-year, $225 million contract. The ring is what's missing.
That elusive World Series is why the Reds acquired Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason and why they gave up four guys for Mat Latos the offseason before that. This is a team looking to win now.
"I thought last year could have been the year," Votto says.
But this year ... no, wait. Votto isn't the guy to make a proclamation that this is the year. Seriously. We asked.
"The players that came up through the Reds organization or that we traded for," Votto says, "are starting to move toward the prime of their careers. Hopefully we get to take advantage of that prime."
A few lockers down from Votto sits infielder Jason Donald, who was also acquired from Cleveland in the Choo trade. He's new to the Reds, but has already noticed that expectations are high in his new clubhouse.
"This is a very talented team, that's obvious," Donald says. "It's something special to see, because there is a certain vibe, a certain atmosphere where winning is expected. Getting to a World Series and winning a World Series is expected in this clubhouse. The horses are in this clubhouse, without a doubt."
The question is: Will those horses cross the finish line ahead of the pack this year? Because Joey Votto wants his ring.