By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
A few days after the tragic Humboldt bus crash, Joey Votto reached out asking if I could help him acquire a Humboldt Strong T-shirt.
One-dimensional me, contacted a few people in the hockey world and some baseball people in Saskatchewan. No success. It didn’t matter. When the Cincinnati Reds visited the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis there he was in the dugout being interviewed by Justin Morneau, the Twins Dapper Dan broadcaster wearing a blue suit, while Votto was wearing a green Humboldt Strong shirt.
Before that we saw highlights how he wrote “#Humboldt Strong” on his cleats to raise awareness in the early days of the GoFundMe page.
After the carnage on Yonge Street, Votto wrote “Const. Ken Lam” on his cleats another night as a tribute to the Toronto police hero who ended the stand off without gunfire. He sent his cleats to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, who gave the game-worn cleats to Lam.
The Etobicoke Rangers seniors are sporting new jerseys this season. They arrived last Friday, a project fully funded by Votto, the most famous Etobicoke Ranger grad of all. In March, the Rangers alumni decided to buy new jerseys for the team. Mike Gauthier reached out to Votto letting him know their intentions and asked if he had a contact a Rawlings that they could work with to potentially reduce the cost.
Votto got back to Gauthier with an idea. Votto offered to pay for the jerseys. His ask in return was for the team to pay it forward and perform volunteer work in the community. After working through many ideas we were able to connect with the Ontario Special Olympics Etobicoke Eagles Softball team. The Rangers players will work with players and coaches each week throughout the summer.
Win win for everyone involved. All Joeys idea.
When he began spending his winters in Toronto, Votto would work out Denny Berni’s Pro Teach Baseball. There are posters of Votto inside the indoor facility where Votto spent hours and hours hitting until his hands bled as a high schooler.
Votto has his own key. His hours are fluid. Sometimes his workout session will overlap with a peewee team or a bantam club. When his work out is done he often hangs around and answers questions from parents. More than one night Canada’s highest-paid athlete taught a lesson.
A regular at the annual Baseball Canada fund raiser, he and Andrew Albers were the only 2017 Canuck major leaguers on hand this January.
Do any or all of these actions sound like someone who would say, “I don’t care almost at all about Canadian baseball?”
Or do any or all of these actions sound like a man who would say and actually mean “as far as Toronto, and Canadian baseball, and the country of Canada, and (James Paxton) being Canadian, I don’t care at all?” as he said in his Yahoo! Sports MLB Podcast,
Votto made those comments to Yahoo’s Tim Brown two days into the Reds’ four-game weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Votto also vented about the Reds poor start to the season.
But the Canadian angle did not really take off in the news cycle until Tuesday night. After the Reds played in San Francisco Tuesday, Votto contacted me and said he would “try to make things right.”
Less than 40 minutes later his apology arrived via email and was posted on the Canadian Baseball Network
I’ve read on the Twitter machine people said it was fine work “for a publicist.” We doubt that.
Votto was wrong with his words about Paxton, about Canada and Canadian baseball.
He apologized Tuesday and asked for forgiveness.
He went on Blue Jays pregame show with host Jamie Campbell before Wednesday afternoon’s Jays-New York Mets game and apologized.
And later, he answered questions on a conference call set up by the Reds.
It should be time to move on ...
A former Canadian first rounder sent a text, “It’s understandable why he would be upset about not making teams. We have all felt that at some point or another. Winning an NL MVP award is a heck of an ‘I told you so.’ It’s too bad this happened because he hasn’t ever really been a guy that relishes the spotlight. He always believed in his ability, right down to his tireless work habits and extreme focus.”
When it comes to the national team selections each area of the country can feel overlooked at times from Abbotsford, B.C., to Windsor Ont., to Montreal. In the case of Etobicoke it often feels overlooked. In over 40 years only Greg O’Halloran, Warren Sawkiw and Henry Andrulis played on Canada’s National Team. Besides Votto, an Etobicoke player will tell you major leaguer Shawn Hill, plus minor leaguers John Suomi, Connor Panas and many others should have received the call.
I read where someone called Votto a traitor to his team. And what did Robinson Cano do for his team lately?
We have all put our foot in our mouth. I used to do it all the time on The Fan with Bob McCown.
Here is what I know about Votto. He is an intense, workaholic with a knowledge of the strike zone better than some umpires. Six times he has led the National League in on-base percentage. And one other thing ... which probably reveals the most about him: of any player I have known since covering the 1978 Montreal Expos, only Roy Halladay and Pat Hentgen have treated those who helped them on the way up with the same respect.
Halladay was drafted in 1995 and that Christmas, he and his father stopped by the house of Bus Campbell, his pitching coach for four years, to install a satellite dish with the MLB package. When Hentgen, a fifth round pick, won the 1996 Cy Young award, he gave Jays scout Don Wilkie a Rolex watch with an inscription “I wouldn’t have been here without you.”
Bob Smyth coached Votto with Etobicoke before his stint with the Canadian Thunderbirds and again in 2002, his draft year, before moving to Ladysmith, BC. Votto sent him a framed Reds jersey from his debut game Sept. 4, 2007. Votto flew Smyth to Toronto in 2009 when the Rogers Centre hosted a pool of the World Baseball Classic. Votto stayed at home and took the GO Train to Union, giving his room at the Four Seasons to Smyth, who spent time in the lobby trying to correct Derek Jeter. Votto sent Smyth a framed Canada jersey from the 6-5 loss to Team USA when Votto had four hits and two RBIs.
He also flew Smyth on road trips to see the Reds play and Smyth would sit in the lobby and explain playing third base to Scott Rolen. The best gesture of all was flying Smyth to Toronto. Then the former coach was off to Cooperstown to golf on Father’s Day Weekend with Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith, Andre Dawson and other Hall of Famers.
So add it all up, this from a guy we first encoutered when he was in grade 11 ... He made a mistake and faced the music.
We’ll accept the apology.