Votto returns to Arizona, and health

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Joey Votto smiled broadly when he was asked what he looked forward to most in 2013.

“Hitting my first home run, hopefully on Opening Day,” he said.

Votto’s last home run came last June 24 against the Minnesota Twins. Five days later he tore the meniscus in his left knee sliding into third base.

Two surgeries followed and Votto was out of the lineup until September 15 and he played 25 games the rest of the season.

He reached base in 24 of those 25 games, but his weakened knee robbed him of any power and he did not hit a home run.

Thus, he can’t wait to make his first triumphant trot around the bases after depositing one over the wall.

Votto passed Step One Friday morning when he breezed through his physical examination and team physician Dr. Tim Kremcheck pronounced him healthy, wealthy and wise.

Votto already was wealthy as the owner of a 12-year $251.1 million contract and the 29-year-old Cincinnati Reds first baseman is wise beyond his years.

“I had my full physical today and Dr. Kremchek had nothing but positive things to say,” said Votto. “I passed — but ultimately the real test is on the field.”

And that began this afternoon on the back fields of the team’s spring training complex.

“I was back playing a few weeks after my second surgery (to remove floating  cartilage from the repaired knee on August 11) so I’m just trying to get my legs back to 100 percent,” he said. “I feel like it’s not perfect, but after surgery my expectations were to have a perfect leg after five months out. But as far as movement, doing baseball stuff — throwing, hitting — I feel really good and I’m happy with how much progress I’ve made.”

Votto knew when he returned to the lineup last September that the team would not get the full Votto, but 75 per cent of Joey Votto is 110 percent of many players.

“It was conscious what I did — I knew what I had and knew what I couldn’t do and I tried to make the most of it (.316, 7 RBI in 25 games),” he said. “Despite the lack of power, I was pretty proud of what I did.”

Votto was asked if he wished he had a dollar for every off-season question about his knee and he said he wouldn’t have enough to buy a good mea

“Fortunately, not very often was I asked about it,” he said. “Nobody knows who I am where I live (south of Sarasota, Fla.) and that’s nice.”

Nevertheless Votto realizes all eyes this spring will be focused on his left knee and he’ll be questioned daily about his health and well-being.

“I’m looking forward to forgetting about it,” he said. “Maybe I won’t, but I’m looking forward to it being in the past.”

It was a shocking learning process for the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player.

“I took things for granted, always having the opportunity to be on the field healthy,” he said. “I have no problem answering all the questions about my knee, but personally I feel it is less at the forefront of my job.

“I’ve never been injured before and I have a new sympathy,” he said. “Other people’s injuries resonate with me now because of my experience. It probably made me a better teammate. It made me more open-minded and more aware of my own body and it’s limitations, no matter how good I’m feeling.”

Votto wants to be part of the World Baseball Classic, wants to play for Team Canada.

“I’m going to talk to the front office and Dr. Kremchek about that,” he said. “Ultimately, it should be a group decision. But, certainly, I’d like to play because spring training is too long this year, so why not?” If Votto plays for Team Canada, workouts begin March 4.