CARTER: Thank you, No. 19; reacting to Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds likely parting ways

Zach Carter poses for a photo with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto at RedsFest in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2014. Zach Carter, Photo Provided
Zach Carter poses for a photo with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto at RedsFest in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2014. Zach Carter, Photo Provided

It was 2010 when my mom, grandma, grandpa and I took a trip to Cincinnati to watch the Reds face the Atlanta Braves. At the time, I was six and was beginning to become a serious Reds fan. I think that would have kicked in at some point anyway, just like the rest of the family.

Before this day, I started to like the guy who wore No. 19.  When the game came, I was enjoying myself and everything that went along with attending a Major League Baseball (MLB) game. Great American Ballpark was awesome, the food was great and the environment was sweet.

During the eighth inning, No. 19 hit a ball right to us in the left field seats. My grandpa and I brought our gloves for this moment. As the ball started to zone in on us, my grandma decided to completely duck instead of trying to help catch the home run. The ball drilled the seats right behind us.

While the Reds went on to lose the game, it’s still one of my favorite memories. It was the day that certified Joey Votto as my favorite baseball player.

So when the dreaded news broke Saturday the Reds were letting him go, I lost it. Part of me wanted to cry,  part of me wanted to scream and the other was in pure shock. Then he released his message on social media Sunday morning.

Instead of arguing whether they should have kept him or let him go on X or trying to think of ways to say thank you, I thought I could put it into words here. 

The way he carried himself

If you ask most Reds fans, they will probably tell you Votto has been their favorite player over the last 15 years. But why? Why do all - or at least most - Cincinnati fans love him? 

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Joey Votto (19) of the Cincinnati Reds hits a single during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Great American Ball Park on August 20, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/TNS)

For one, he was dominant when it came to his ability to play the game. In his 17 seasons with the Reds, Votto played in 2,056 games (fifth in franchise history), recorded 2,139 hits (fourth in franchise history), 356 home runs (second in franchise history), 1,144 RBIs (third in franchise history) and has an OPS of .920 (second in franchise history). 

Yet one of his best stats was his ability to draw walks, standing first in franchise history with  1,365. At first base, he started in 1,948 games and had a fielding percentage of .994. 

However, his play wasn’t the only thing.

His work ethic, one that included switching his batting stance multiple times after having a slump or an injury, is something I admire and I’ve tried to incorporate into my journalism work. Whether it was expanding my writing, starting a podcast or working on my photography, Votto’s model always stuck with me. 

Yet with his ethics and achievements, he never talks about himself. Whether it was when he won the Most Valuable Player award in 2010, his Reds records or in his last home game of this season and maybe Reds’ career, - I definitely didn’t cry while watching that on my couch - he always shifts the question to his team.

One of the best times of my life

Another Votto story: A few years after that fateful game in 2010, my mom was in the parent-teacher organization  at Albany Elementary while I was a student there. Typing that makes me feel old. 

Anyway, the principal was a huge Reds fan. He had tickets for Redsfest, an offseason celebration of the organization. Due to a prior engagement, he couldn’t attend the event. Since he knew I loved the Reds, he gave the tickets to my mom and I. 

Once we arrived, I was in heaven. I didn’t know where to start. To this day, I still remember the order of how all of this went down. First, I met outfielder Jay Bruce; I followed that by meeting infielders Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier. 

Then the personal address announcer announced my second favorite Reds player, infielder Brandon Phillips, was signing autographs. My mom bought me a baseball and display case for him to sign. I was in awe. 

The next twenty seconds are a bit of a blur. This is what I remember. While staring at Phillips’ John Hancock on the ball, the announcer said something else. The next thing I knew, I was being shoved by my mom, and others around me were racing in the same direction. 

After getting in the line, I realized it continued throughout the whole building behind us. Still confused, I looked at my mom who was hoping that we made the cut. That's when she told me what the announcer said.  

I looked at what the line was leading to.

My eyes were the size of baseballs. My jaw hit the floor. 

I was about to meet Votto. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting many great athletes. I was able to meet Peyton Manning twice, Reggie Wayne, Eugenio Suarez and Robert Mathis. But this is the one that takes the cake. 

It was a kids’ line only, and he made sure to talk to everyone. When it was my turn, I told him that he was my favorite player and he thanked me and asked if I was enjoying the event. When he signed my ball, I almost fainted. 

The ball sits on my dresser. Even though the signatures have started to fade a little, the memory will endure in my mind for the rest of my life.

He helped me find what to do with my life

It was my senior year at Delta High School and I was still trying to decide what to study in college. While I enjoyed writing for the school paper and working on different stories, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it for my future. 

On September 22, 2021, two days after my birthday and one day before my grandpa’s, Sports Illustrated released their magazine. Votto was featured on the front cover. The article followed the streak where Votto became the eighth player to homer in seven straight games. 

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Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts after hitting a two-RBI double in the seventh inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 27, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images/TNS)

Throughout the article, the writer kept asking why Joey Votto is here. As soon as I heard about the piece, I read word-for-word multiple times. It told me things about him I never would have thought of. Things like how he sometimes helped the Reds staff clean uniforms, his love for chess and the fact that he learned Spanish and took improv and stand-up comedy classes. 

But I learned more about his struggles as well. In 2008, Votto’s father passed away. I lost my father when I was two, so I understood how he felt. 

Then in January 2022, my grandma passed away suddenly. She was one of the rocks of our family. Always checking in, talking to you for an hour on the phone, and she loved to watch sports and game shows.  I was devastated. 

I took that week off from school and didn’t do anything. My mind was blank. Then I went back to school and did nothing besides write and prepare for my upcoming high school golf season. For some reason, the article came up again. 

As I read the section about his father, I understood his grief. He had panic attacks and depression. While my emotions were on a smaller scale, I wasn’t in a great place. I would break down after having good golf rounds and not being able to tell her. I missed not having her there when I graduated high school. 

While realizing that, I knew I wanted to continue to write. That article connected a high school student to  his favorite MLB player of all time. If I could tell a story that connected a pro player, college athlete, or even a high school athlete for someone to better understand them, I would be proud. I would feel accomplished. 

So while I’m just a sophomore in college and I could wake up one day and switch majors, my future will always have the work ethic Votto has had his whole career. 

One thing is for certain. Joseph Daniel Votto will never be forgotten in Reds Country. While I think the Reds should bring him back - I won’t argue with Reds fans who disagree. If this is the end, it’s been a heck of a run.

Thank you, No. 19. 
Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X@ZachCarter85.

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