Clemente nominee Votto keeps low profile

September 24th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- When Reds first baseman does community work, he doesn’t do it for show, accolades or attention. In fact, Votto would prefer that the only people who know about his charitable endeavors are those he is directly helping.

Therefore, it wasn’t exactly comfortable for Votto to speak about being the Reds’ nominee for the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award, which is bestowed annually upon the player who best represents baseball via community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.

“The man has a fantastic legacy, and the award is appropriately named after him. It’s just an honor,” Votto said.

Votto, 38, was formally recognized Friday on the field at Great American Ball Park as the Clemente Award nominee for the club before Cincinnati played Washington.

All fans can vote for the Roberto Clemente Award winner via (English) and (Español) through the end of the regular season on Oct. 3. The winner of the fan vote will count as one vote among those cast by a blue-ribbon panel that will select the league-wide winner of the award. The winner will be revealed during the World Series.

The longest-tenured member of the Reds, who arrived in the Major Leagues in 2007, Votto has been quietly helping others throughout his career. When it was possible before the COVID-19 pandemic, he often visited Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to meet with kids. This year, because he couldn’t visit in person, Votto met virtually with patients and sent recorded videos to kids before their surgeries.

“He has done amazing things, primarily [under] the radar, but in a very thoughtful, authentic, consistent fashion,” said Charley Frank, the executive director of the Reds Community Fund.

While at Great American Ball Park, Votto has often spent extended time with Make-A-Wish Foundation kids and their families.

“He is someone that really cares about people for the right reasons and does it not for himself, but actually does the things he does to help other people and make other people feel good,” Reds manager David Bell said. “A lot of people unfortunately do things because all they care about is how it’s perceived. They do things for their own self-benefit. Joey is the exact opposite of that. He doesn’t care about that at all. He tries to avoid it as much as he can.

“I think he appreciates being recognized, and I think he’ll appreciate the Clemente presentation and being affiliated with that. I know that means a lot to him. But I know he doesn’t seek that out. He does it for all the right reasons.”

Votto often makes regular visits to the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy -- even after his Reds day games -- to spend time with the players from the RBI baseball and softball teams -- including the RBI senior team, which won the 2021 RBI World Series.

On the field, Votto has enjoyed a resurgent season. He entered Friday’s game with 33 home runs and 92 RBIs -- numbers he hadn’t previously approached since 2017. In July, he set a franchise record with a homer in seven consecutive games, one shy of tying the Major League record.

“It seemed that he was finding joy and meaning here that hopefully did play a part in what was going on with not only his incredible season but also the home run streak,” Frank said.

While Votto was on the injured list with a fractured left thumb in May, he spent extra time working with and advising the 13U team.

“This year, he has seemingly stepped into [it] a bit more -- especially in the month of May, when he was on the injured list,” Frank said. “I think it kind of got him re-energized here at the Youth Academy. The Children’s Hospital visits, the support of the Freestore Foodbank, there are so many things he has done consistently and thoughtfully over the years. I do feel as he enters the final handful of years of his contract, he is thinking more along the lines of a legacy. But in terms of his day-to-day drive to impact others, that really hasn’t wavered over the years.”

The prize money that Votto receives for being nominated for the award -- $7,500 -- will be donated to the Freestore Foodbank.

Frank has noticed that when Votto visits the Academy, he tries to blend in as much as possible and not create too much of a buzz.

“He doesn’t want practice to stop so everyone can gather around him so he can speak and depart,” Frank said. “He’s come for entire practices -- a couple of hours at a time. He really rolls up his sleeves and jumps into whatever activity that’s going on.”