DAYTON — Jeff Ferrell experienced a lifetime memory Tuesday night at Fifth Third Field, home of the low Class A Dayton Dragons, a high even higher than a Rocky Mountain high.
On a 3-and-2 pitch, the 21-year-old righthanded pitcher for the West Michigan Whitecaps struck out Joey Votto, the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player for the Cincinnati Reds.
While he was still on the mound feeling the exhilaration of his accomplishment, the next two low Class A Dayton Dragons, Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Silva, hit home runs.
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Baseball is a fickle game.
Votto was in Dayton on a rehabilitation assignment, testing his surgically repaired left knee, preparatory to return to the Reds this weekend after missing nearly six weeks.
Votto played 4 ½ innings and batted twice, walking his first time and striking out his second time. And he played first base, without much action.
Actually, it wasn’t much of a test because he wasn’t called upon to do much, but he’ll play again Wednesday and plans to take three at-bats.
“It went all right, but I still have a ways to go,” said Votto. “It was nice to hear the reaction of the fans in Dayton. I was very appreciative of that.”
There was a sellout, but not because Votto was there. The Dragons are on a 10-year streak of 816 straight sellouts. And there were more than 9,400 Tuesday night. They cheered loudly when Votto popped out of the dugout before the game to stretch in the outfield. And they cheered vigorously each time he came to bat.
They booed West Michigan’s Ferrell when he walked Votto on five pitches in the first inning and they booed when he fell behind 3-and-1 when Vottl led off the fourth inning — before he struck him out swinging.
“It was so nice to be back on the field,” said Votto. “I’ve been off for almost six weeks now, so it’s not too comfortable yet, but I don’t think it’ll take too long.”
When it was mentioned that he didn’t get to test his knee aggressively, he said, “No, I didn’t. I was too busy swinging and missing.”
But didn’t he set up for the next two batters to hit home runs? He laughed and said, “It was just like the Reds. I’ve noticed that when I leave games or leave the team, the teams just start playing really, really well. So that was just me being a good teammate and letting somebody else take it over.”
The Reds are 29-14 since Votto wrecked his knee June 28 sliding into third base in San Francisco.
As for not batting in the fifth, Votto said, “You’ll have to ask someone else on why I didn’t bat,” he said. “There was no reason physically.
“It was nice to face live pitching and I don’t think it will take long for me to get back into the swing of things,” he said. “I felt pretty good at the plate, but the concern is not necessarily my swing but it is more the other things like running the bases (which he didn’t get to do, even after the walk because he was stranded at first base), playing defense (he caught a couple of thrown balls, but didn’t field any) and not being concerned about how my knee reacts.”
Votto played a year-and-a-half in Dayton, wearing No. 29, but he had his familiar No. 19 on his Dragons uniform Tuesday. And he was the only player on the field with high pants, exposing his socks and said, “I don’t have my own Dayton Dragons pants at home, so I just play it by ear.”
His beginning in Dayton in 2003 was not eye-popping after he was the team’s No. 2 draft choice. In 60 games (195 at-bats) he hit .231 with one homer and 20 RBI.
But he displayed his future possibilities in 2004 when he hit .302 with 14 homers and 72 RBI.
“This brought back memories a little bit,” he said. “They certainly didn’t treat me as well when I was here and they are now, but it is nice to be back and I continue to be astonished with the great conditions of this field, the grounds crew does an amazing job and the fans turn out in droves, so it is a great place to play.”
He plans to arrive at Fifth Third early Wednesday, “To do some things on the field by myself and hopefully not strike out every other at bat. The goal is three at-bats and five, six or seven innings. I want to be on the field as long as I’m comfortable and it is leading me in the right direction.
“I’m glad I’m finally back out there playing ball,” he said. “Ths is the first step toward getting back to Great American Ball Park and hopefully win the World Series this year. I’m not sure they need me to win the World Series. They’re playing great baseball.”