SURPRISE, Ariz. — One of the biggest questions in camp involves Joey Votto and it is a question asked in a song by The Clash: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
In Votto’s case, the question is should he stay in camp with his Cincinnati Reds team or should he take a leave of absence to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
Team Canada is headquartered at Goodyear Ball Park, spring home of the Reds, and the Canadian team equipment arrived Thursday, including a uniform, a locker and a clubhouse pass for Votto.
But he has yet to make a decision because he is still testing his surgically repaired left knee that he tore up sliding last year in San Diego’s Petco Park.
He gets asked the question every day: “Are you going to play for Team Canada?”
After playing five innings and taking three at-bats Thursday, Votto was asked again.
“I’m going to talk soon to (general manager) Walt Jocketty and (manager) Dusty Baker and get an answer,” said Votto. “That way I won’t have to answer this same question every day and I can give you guys an answer with which you’ll be satisfied.”
As a player coming off surgery, Votto can be held back by his team on medical appeal and the Reds did that with pitcher Johnny Cueto, who ended last season with an injured right oblique.
But Baker understands Votto’s position and is totally sympathetic.
“If he asks me, I say, ‘Yes, go play.’ There is national pride for his country and Joey is like a national treasure for Canada.”
Only any after-effects from the injury would cause Baker to flinch and he said, “Hey, he hasn’t had any yet. I’d say no if he showed anything negative, but he seems to be doing good, no limp or anything.”
Votto is coming from a place he has never been and has no past reference concerning how he should feel.
“I don’t have to make a decision until 15 minutes before the first pitch on March 8,” he said. “I’m already on their roster, I have a locker in the clubhouse, I have a clubhouse pass. I can show up if I want to.
“It is difficult for me, though, because I’ve never been injured before,” he said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Sure, I’ll play,’ and then have to pull out because something is going on with my knee.”
After the 2010 season, Votto received a letter from Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper that congratulated him for being the National League MVP, Canadian Athlete of the Year and for winning a closet full of trophies and plaques and he also mentioned how important it is for Votto to represent Canada in the WBC.
“That was an isolated event,” said Votto. “I’ve never not been committed to my country and it wouldn’t take a letter from somebody to view my country in a different light.
“I’m strictly doing it this way to protect myself and my (Reds) organization to make the right decision,” he added.
Votto laughed and said, “The prime minister and I went to the same high school. He has since spent some time with Justin Bieber and I haven’t had that opportunity. He rebuffed my request to say hello in person but he since has sent me a nice letter.”
Although playing for his country is something Votto definitely wants to do, the team that is paying him close to $275 million is of extreme importance, especially a team that many project as a World Series contender.
Votto, though, wants himself and his teammates to take it one small step at a time. Looking too far ahead usually results in a step in a hole and a twisted ankle.
“Every year is the same, the goal is to win the World Series,” he said. “But it is always important to start from the ground up and never get ahead of ourselves. You have to take a humble approach. I’ve played on teams that should have been in contention but all of a sudden we came up short.
“The times we won the division in two of the last three years we didn’t assume we were going to win,” Votto added. “We stayed hungry, we had a humble approach and we just kept grinding. Then we were surprised with every good thing that came our way. In this game, it is important to consistently have that perspective. If you don’t, it is a very humbling game, much like life. It is very humbling and it pays to be very grateful to everything good that comes your way.”
Votto paused to let it all sink in and said, “If you do all that, you stand a much better chance than if you just assume everything is going to come your way