TORONTO — Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto has built a resume that seems to get better with every passing season.
Over parts of 11 seasons with the Reds, the Canadian first baseman has 233 career homers, a .312 batting average and on-base percentage of .424. A former Gold Glover and National League most valuable player, Votto is also the foundation for a franchise that is trying to build its way into contention.
His formative years in the sport were a tad unusual. As a youngster, winter weather in the Ontario capital forced the Toronto native to practise his swing in indoor cages or chilly garages.
He worked on his defensive skills year-round too. Votto would often grab his glove and chuck a ball against a schoolyard wall whether there was ice on the ground or not.
"I don't think I let anything get in my way," Votto said before the Reds played the Blue Jays on Monday night.
Votto attended Richview Collegiate Institute in the city's west end and came up through the Etobicoke Rangers baseball program. The Reds drafted him out of high school in 2002 and he made his big-league debut with the team five years later.
Votto, 33, has been with Cincinnati ever since, signing a 12-year deal with the team in 2012 worth over US$200 million.
"I think with Joey, he doesn't feel like the game has ever really come easy to him," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "I think the work ethic is something that has rubbed off a lot on a lot of the young players here.
"Seeing that if you're going to be great, you've got something to do every day at the ballpark to maintain what you're doing and get better."
Votto maintains that strong work ethic in the off-season.
He shared a story Monday detailing how he went to a school in his neighbourhood over the winter months to work on a few things. The memories of his youth came flooding back.
"There was a couple occasions where it was later at night and I knew I had to get some throwing in," Votto said. "So I had to go to a school locally and throw against the wall. This was this past off-season and it brought me back to the times when I was a kid, throwing against the wall, picking out a little brick and aiming for it, fielding a ground ball like I'm preparing for the season.
"It just reminded me of when I was eight years old, 12 years old, 15 years old. It was cold. It was really cold. But it definitely brought good memories back and it reminded me of how much joy and how I felt about baseball the first little bit of my life when I started dabbling in it."
Votto, a four-time all-star, is enjoying another strong season. He entered Monday's game with 12 homers, 39 RBIs, a .287 average and .415 on-base percentage.
"I try to think about getting better and think about not being satisfied with how I've played in the past," said Votto, who last played an interleague series at Rogers Centre in 2009. "More than anything I think about — as I've gotten older — I think about how I fit into a winning culture. I haven't been a part of a World Series team. It's something I'm really excited to hopefully be a part of.
"There's been a lot of great players who haven't had an opportunity to win a championship. That's something that I really hope I get to be a part of one day because it sure looks fun."
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press