SALT RIVER AT TALKING STICK, Ariz. — Cincinnati Reds third base coach Mark Berry took all the drama and intrigue out of Joey Votto’s announcement Monday morning.
As Votto walked toward a media gathering to say yes or no to playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Berry broke into a lusty and off-key rendition of, ‘O Canada.’
So, yes. Yes, Votto will play for his native country in the World Baseball Classic. And Team Canada plays an exhibition game Wednesday night against the Reds.
Hearing that, pitcher Mat Latos, who will pitch for the Reds that night said, “Oh, good. I get to face Votto. I’m going to walk him.”
No, he isn’t. Votto isn’t joining the Canadians until Thursday and he won’t play Wednesday night for Canada or for the Reds. He is taking that night off.
“I look forward to being a part of the team and I had a great time playing for them the last time,” said Votto. “It isn’t very often you get to represent your country in a big event like this.”
Votto delayed his decision until the last moments to make certain his surgically repaired left knee was strong and sturdy during early exhibition games and it passed the test.
Votto leaves the Reds with the blessings of owner Bob Castellinio, “Who encouraged me to play,” manager Dusty Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty.
“If he is OK, I’m for the decision,” said Baker. “And he says he is OK. If he is not OK he is not going to say he is OK.
“Joey is the top man in Canada as far as baseball is concerned, like a national treasure,” Baker added. “You always want to be able to go home. A lot of the guys on the Canadian have backed out on their country. Joey is the main man for his country.”
Votto has said all spring that his knee was performing to his expectations, so it was fairly clear he would play in the WBC, “Because I really want to do it,” he said.
“I never got to play in the Olympics, but this is the next best thing,” he added. “I had a great time in Toronto (his hometown) in 2009 and I hope that we have a better time and do some winning (they lost two straight last time).”
Votto’s plans, subject to manager Ernie Whitt, is to do some designated hitting and play some first base. It is also the position played by Minnesota’s Justin Morneau.
“I imagine I’ll share time with another former Most Valuable Player,” he said, referring to him winning the National League MVP in 2010 and Morneau winning the American League MVP in 2008.
Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin pulled out after agreeing to play for Team Canada and Votto said, “I respect his decision. He has a responsibility to the Pirates. A lot of the players have hesitated because their organizations have made them think twice, in a good way. Pitchers, for the most part, have passed. Catchers get a lot of wear and tear and Russ is with a new organization and it is important he stays with the Pittsburgh pitching staff.”
Votto hopes he and the team can make amends for their two-games-and-out disappearance last time.
“The Canadian baseball people were pretty embarrassed by it and I know I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “But we’re playing good competition. But the past tournament won’t ignite me one way or another.”
Team Canada was able to play both games in 2009 in Toronto, at Rogers Centre, something that won’t happen this year. So it is a different aspect for Votto.
“This is a new experience because the previous tournament was in Toronto and I slept in my own bed at home every night at my mom’s house. I took the ‘Go’ train every day to and from the ballpark.
“I got to play in the stadium where I grew up watching the Blue Jays and that stadium inspired me to play baseball. So, to play there in front of the home fans, a great crowd, meant a lot to me, more personally, from a patriotic perspective.
“This one? I’m not sure. I’ll wait and see. I’m very proud to put on the uniform and be a part of a team that is completely Canadian,” he said. “I hope the people in Canada tune in and we can give them something to cheer about.”