Votto has Fans -- Millions of them

Cincinnati -- Joey Votto is wearing a Los Angeles Lakers yellow T-shirt, his Etobicoke smile, and the rest of his uniform. Kobe Bryant, of Votto's favourite hoops team, wears a crown on the T-shirt.And the Cincinnati Reds first baseman is a long shot to make a run at the National League triple crown. He has a .319 average (second in the NL, eight points behind Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez), 28 home runs (two behind Adam Dunn of the Washington Nationals) and 75 RBIs (tied for sixth, seven behind Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals) at beautiful Great American Ball Park. "Triple crown talk puts too much pressure on him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Joey is getting to the point where he's like Pujols -- no one throws him a strike. It doesn't matter who's hitting fourth." How did Votto become a fan of the Lakers? "Growing up, when I was 12, 13, I wasn't allowed to watch much TV during the week, but on the weekends I'd watch basketball and it seemed like the Lakers were always the game of the week," Votto said his eyes widening. "I fell in love with the Lakers." How much does he love the Lakers? Votto decided to fly to Los Angeles to watch the Lakers play Game 7 of the NBA final against the Boston Celtics. Admittedly he had luck, good timing and plenty of strikes to pull off "this spur of the moment thing." The Reds played host to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 12:30 p.m. Thursday start and won 7-1, with Votto getting two hits, including a two-run homer. The game took two hours and 26 minutes to play. "I just made my 4 o'clock flight, I was out of here fast -- yes, showered," said Votto, who flew Cincinnati-LAX, reaching the Staples Centre in the second quarter, plenty of time to see the Lakers rally from a 57-53 third-quarter deficit to win 83-79. The next morning, Votto was up early to fly to Seattle where he had two more hits in a 1-0 loss to the Mariners. "Joey hasn't really been locked in yet, not like I've seen him before," Baker said. "When he's locked in, he's as steady as anyone and can stay there a long time.

"He'd rather take a pitcher out to left as much as pull one to right. He studies pitchers, does work preparing." Aside from this triple crown thing, where does Votto rank amongst Toronto major leaguers? He appeared in 151 games for the Reds in 2008 -- most ever by a Toronto-born player, surpassing the 145 games Goody Rosen played with the 1945 Brooklyn Dodgers. And yet we have the feeling -- so we asked -- if he ever feels overlooked by his home town?

"I don't get many calls from Sportsnet or TSN, I mean they stopped by Monday in Anaheim and come by when the Reds are in Toronto, but outside of that ... " Votto said. "I'm not trying to compete with former players from Toronto, I play in small-market Cincinnati. You can't expect the interest in me to be the same as the Maple Leafs." Overlooked at home, he was not overlooked by fans, winning the vote count with 13.7 million votes to take the final spot on the NL roster. Votto agrees with Baker on the lack of pitches he's seeing and explained why he swung at the first pitch from Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees (ground ball to second in the seventh) and Tampa Bay Rays' Rafael Soriano (fly ball to centre in the eighth) during the all-star game.

His all-star moment? "Standing along the first-base line during introduction between my teammates Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips," Votto said. "I got quite emotional thinking of my father (who died in 2008) and how proud he would have been. I've come a long way since when I was drafted in 2002." In 2002, only the New York Yankees and the Reds were interested. Now, 13.7 million people are voting for him.