An emotional goodbye in Votto's potential final Cincy home game

Longtime first baseman gets standing ovation before 1st at-bat, curtain call for 8th-inning single

September 24th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- No plans have been revealed nor any announcements made about Joey Votto’s future with the Reds. But fans at Great American Ball Park didn't wait to show their appreciation. Votto let them know the feeling was likewise.

Sunday could have been the final Reds home game of Votto's long career. Since Friday, the 40-year-old first baseman reverted back to using his former longtime walk-up music, "Paint It Black," by the Rolling Stones.

Once those first few familiar guitar notes sounded before his first at-bat in the series finale vs. the Pirates, Reds fans got loud with a standing ovation. Votto asked for a timeout, stepped out of the batter's box and raised his helmet. As the cheers grew louder, he waved some more. Then he motioned to the batter's box and said, "I gotta go hit."

The moment, Votto noted, stopped him in his tracks.

“I very nearly cried," Votto said. "I was so focused on competing that I wasn’t quite there emotionally, but because it took so long, I almost got there. It was a spectacular moment for me. It was as special as it gets.”

Votto struck out in the first at-bat, and the next one. His third plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch. But he saved his best moment for last, lining a one-out single into center field during the eighth inning of Cincinnati's 4-2 win over the Pirates.

Another loud ovation from the 31,191 fans came when Votto was lifted for pinch-runner Stuart Fairchild. Votto emerged from the dugout for the requested curtain call and soaked up the moment.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s a humbling experience," he said. "All I could think about is, how can I give it back in performance? I’m glad that we won today.”

Votto is in the final days of the 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed in 2012. There is a $20 million club option for ‘24, with a $7 million buyout. The Reds finish the '23 season on the road, and their playoff hopes have faded significantly because of a four-game losing streak that ended on Sunday.

Votto acknowledged he felt nostalgic this weekend, which was one reason he returned to "Paint It Black.”

"I’ve had several requests," he said. "I don’t know what the future holds, but while I have the opportunity, give some of the fans what they requested.”

Since making his Major League debut with the Reds on Sept. 4, 2007, Votto has become a generational icon for the only franchise he's ever represented. He is second all-time in club history in home runs and OPS, sixth in games played and first in walks. 

Votto was the 2010 National League MVP, a six-time All-Star and an ‘11 NL Gold Glove winner. He is one of just 16 players in Major League history with at least 2,000 hits, 350 homers and an on-base percentage of at least .410. 

Twelve of those players are in the Hall of Fame, and Votto's resume indicates he has a good chance for Cooperstown enshrinement as well. 

“He definitely is someone I admire," second baseman Jonathan India said. "He inspires a lot of people. Behind the scenes, he works so hard. I admire that, because I work very hard as well. He’s taught me a lot along the way. He’s not done. A lot of people think he’s done. He’s not done. I hope he’s in a Reds uniform next year.”

That's a murky situation, in part because of Votto's last two seasons. He endured his worst year in 2022, which was cut short because of major left shoulder surgery to repair a torn biceps and rotator cuff. Since returning in June, he is batting .205 in 62 games with a .748 OPS, 14 home runs and 38 RBIs. 

"The last day of the season, whenever that happens, I would like to just stop for a second. Just stop and go from there," Votto said. "I hate the idea of falling flat on my face. More importantly, I hate the idea of putting my teammates and manager, management, everyone in a position where they’re, ‘That’s enough,’ sort of thing. I just want to continue to work and see where it takes me.”

In the dugout and clubhouse -- often away from reporters and cameras -- Votto helps younger teammates who approach him for advice. 

“It’s been a very lucky opportunity for me to play with a guy of that caliber," rookie Spencer Steer said. "It’s been very inspiring, honestly, watching him come back from such a major injury, especially at his age. The amount of work that it took not only for him to get back but to play through it, I know he’s had to do a lot of treatment and preparation before and after every game. 

"I think I’ve learned the most just from watching him.”

As a high schooler, catcher Tyler Stephenson watched Votto play before he joined the organization as its 2015 first-round Draft pick. Stephenson, who debuted in ‘20, has memories of seeing Votto in the weight room during his first Spring Training.

"Everything that he does to be 40 years old and still be the hardest worker on this team, it obviously describes his career as a whole," Stephenson said. "It’s obviously business and out of my control. I hope he’s back. What he’s meant to me and everybody else in this clubhouse and roster, he means a lot. He’s seen a lot. He’s been around for a long time. I feel like he’s got a lot of answers to a lot of questions we all have.”

After the game, as Votto did a TV interview on the field, teammates remained in the dugout and watched along with fans as his words were broadcast around the ballpark. 

“Our fans, they couldn’t have shown their appreciation any better," Reds manager David Bell said. "It was all organic, nothing planned. Nobody knows what the future holds, it was just so nice to be a part of. I think we all felt like that in the dugout, it was emotional. Seeing a player appreciated and a player appreciating the fans back like that, that’s what it’s all about.”