Votto on return to Toronto: 'It just gives me goosebumps'

May 21st, 2022

TORONTO -- Whether the memories are real or made up in his head, Joey Votto is transported back to when he was a kid watching ballgames as a fan in the old SkyDome.

“I have this image of me catching a foul ball,” Votto said on Friday before the Reds' 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the opener of a three-game Interleague series at Rogers Centre. “But I don't think I've ever caught a foul ball. … I just remember coming in and sitting in the upper section and taking in the game.”

This was a much-anticipated homecoming for the 38-year-old, who spent several summers making his way to the ballpark almost every day to watch the Blue Jays play in the 1980s and early 90s.

Votto hasn’t played in Toronto since 2017, when the Reds made their previous Interleague trip to Canada. He came close to missing this year’s series after a bout with COVID sidelined the first baseman on May 3. After a two-game rehab stint with Triple-A Louisville, and a couple more games in High-A Dayton, Votto said on Wednesday that he was “ready to play.”

“It just gives me goosebumps. I lose sleep over [playing in Toronto],” said Votto, who started at first base and batted cleanup in the series opener. “There's great meaning to me, truly great meaning to me. I mean, between being a fan of the team and being raised in this stadium in this team's backyard.”

There are reminiscent qualities between Votto’s boyhood memories and the current makeup of this Blue Jays team. While young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Alek Manoah have developed into fully fledged Major Leaguers, their energy remains boisterous and captivating.

“I gravitate to the players that are a joy to watch,” Votto said. “And there's several on this team, in my opinion, Vladdy being the most fun to watch. I'm hitter biased, but he's a treat and he's got what appears to be a fantastic future, so I can't wait to compete against him.”

Votto hasn’t looked great at the plate to start the year. He's batting .128 after going 1-for-4 with a double on Friday with no home runs and three RBIs -- far removed from his record as a former National League MVP and six-time All-Star.

His homecoming may be a good time to turn a page.

“I feel like with more information, it gets more complicated and starts spiraling down. Really, I've tried to keep it really simple,” Votto said. “My brother used to [pitch to me] when I was a boy and he hated it, but I did it every single day. … It's still the same game, you know. Just ask Vladdy Jr. over there. It's such a simple, fun game. We complicate it at times.”