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Veteran Votto remains focused on winning

Reds' first baseman dedicated to elevating game, taking home title @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- Joey Votto is among the baseball elite in his native Canada. But he is driven to accomplish more.

"I don't compete with Canadians," Votto said. "I compete with Major Leaguers. I compete with the history of the game."

DENVER -- Joey Votto is among the baseball elite in his native Canada. But he is driven to accomplish more.

"I don't compete with Canadians," Votto said. "I compete with Major Leaguers. I compete with the history of the game."

Votto matches up pretty well with the history of the game, and with Canadians.

Votto is headed to his fifth All-Star Game, tying Larry Walker for the most appearances by a Canadian. He, Walker and Justin Morneau are the only Canadians to win a Most Valuable Player Award. And Votto, Walker and Russell Martin are the only Canadians to win a Gold Glove Award.

Video: MLB Network: Votto's success on first-pitch fastballs

Votto is fourth all-time among Canadians with 245 home runs, second in doubles at 329, second in batting average (.313) and the all-time leader from his home land in OPS (.966).

Impressed? Votto isn't.

Oh, he is proud of where he stands among Canadians, particularly when it is mentioned his batting average trails only Tip O'Neill, who hit .326, among Canadians with at least 1,500 at-bats.

"That's cool," said Votto. "His name is on the award every year."

That's the Tip O'Neill Award that goes annually to the Canadian baseball player "judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution, while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball."

Votto has won that award six times, second among Canadians to Walker, a nine-time winner. And there have been 247 Canadian-born big leagues, eight who have appeared in the big leagues this year.

Video: CIN@COL: Votto secures a triple on a liner to left

It is just a smattering of the athletes in Canada, where hockey is definitely the king, but baseball always was the driving force for Votto. He played street hockey growing up, but he never took to the ice.

"I've played more road hockey than probably anybody that I know and certainly as much as any NHL player, but I never strapped the skates on or put the pads on, and I never got into a fight on the ice," Votto said. "I played that like crazy. I can't tell you how much I played. I used to play anywhere from three to six hours a day when I was younger. It was something I had a good time with."

The devotion, however, was to baseball, and Bob Smyth was the man who provided the direction, which Votto never forgot.

It was Smyth, after all, who one day answered his door for a delivery man who had a crate that contained Votto's jersey from his big league debut, personalized to Smyth.

It was Smyth, a recreational golfer, who received an envelope in the mail from Votto that included his passes to play in a golf tournament sponsored by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., plus airline tickets from Vancouver, where he now lives, and hotel accommodations.

"I thought I was pretty self-motivated and I was focused on baseball, and I think I was lucky to have had help along the way," said Votto. "I do think that a good bit of it was something that I wanted to do. It felt right. It felt like something that was realistic. It felt like something that I could do on a daily basis and get away from regular life."

That motivation hasn't waned, even now that Votto has made it in the big leagues. He's still driven, even now that he is a proven All-Star.

Votto remains motivated by the desire to be part of a championship team. And he wants that team to be Cincinnati.

In an era where star players are known to want out of situations with teams that are in a rebuilding state, Votto is the exception, sort of like the athlete growing up in Canada without a desire to play professional hockey.

Video: STL@CIN: Votto homers in four-hit game vs. Cardinals

Votto was a second-round Draft choice of the Reds in 2002. He made his big league debut in September '07, and he has been with Cincinnati ever since, except for 10 medical rehab games in the Minors spread over three seasons.

Votto was a runner-up for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2008 and the NL MVP Award in '09. He was an All-Star from '10-13, and he is one again in '17. It's all been while wearing a Reds uniform, which he wants to have on when they celebrate the next World Series championship in Cincinnati.

"The idea of winning a ring or two while wearing this uniform is something that stands out to me as a very meaningful goal," Votto said. "I hope that comes to fruition."

If it doesn't, it won't be because of a lack of effort from Votto.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto