That was the first time ever I thought, “I can’t keep up anymore. I’m not good enough.” And that was all I could think about for the rest of the year. And I knew it was only going to get worse. So, at the end of the season, I left. Everyone was shocked. But, I didn’t want to be one of the broken-down footballers, taking up space until they were dropped, years after they should have been. But I got to admit today, there’s a part of me thinking that maybe I should have stayed. And just #&#%@ enjoyed myself. –Roy Kent, Ted Lasso

This Opening Day has become a tale of two Cincinnati’s, one made up of fresh faced dreamers looking to cement their places into the continuum of Redleg lore; the other, the fading superstar, his long-ago place secured in the pantheon of Cincinnati baseball history.

Today is typically a day for waxing poetic about the green infield grass, the sound of ball against mitt, the roar of the beer vendor and the smell of the crowd. Oh, it will surely be about all that this afternoon. But for one of those rare times this afternoon, that prosaic image takes a back seat to more important matters, to reflect back on the passage of time, to put the tape deck in reverse and remember the moments that bring us here year after year.

A favorite of mine occurred less than two seasons ago, the penultimate day of July 2021. The Reds are in town to play the Mets. A soon-to-be 38 year-old first baseman has hit home runs in 6 straight games. This madness cannot continue. Still, I’m at Citi Field because it’s the Joey Votto Traveling Medicine Show and I’m here for it. Even the New York press cannot ignore it. The locals are in full throat. The usual Met fan buffoonery ensues. They know what daring-do Number 19 has conjured with his aging Wonderboy-like piece of maple. They are there to see the fall. They are pointing. They are barking, rabid, frothing at the mouth. Then, this happens:

And as I stand there, my gaze turns to my right, beyond the walls of Citi Field, to the parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood, to an October afternoon in 1973, the day another great Reds hitter circled the bases, a day after rolling in the dirt at second with Bud Harrelson, fist raised high above his head, a thrashing home run his reply to a snarling Shea Stadium crowd.

On this night, the Citi Field crowd goes largely silent, while the Reds fans in attendance, both ex-pats and travelers from afar, revel in the wonder that is Number 19. It’s Cincinnati’s version of the baseball continuum, a string made up of time and space, one moment, one memory, linked to the next, and the next, and the next after that.

The talk today will be of shiny, new boys; names, faces and numbers we are just getting familiar with, and all the hope for the future that rides with them. But when I get to the ballpark down by the river today and plant my feet on that familiar medallion painted on the floor just inside the main gate, I’ll be thinking of the past; and this final year for the great first baseman who—if not today—is readying himself for one more surprising season in the sun before it dips below the horizon.

As Shakepeare’s great Dane once said, “Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honor’s at the stake.” Joseph Daniel Votto will surely do just that, finding quarrel in ever pitch, every umpire’s call, every short hop in the dirt, as he pushes Father Time back to his seat on the bench for just one more summer.

One last trip around the sun with perhaps the greatest hitter to wear Cincinnati red.

This is the end, beautiful friend.

16 Responses

  1. Bdh

    Votto will still be playing for Cincinnati next year

  2. Old Big Ed

    I don’t yet dismiss the possibility of his playing in 2024. Every time that I figure that he is over the hill, he gets it going again.

  3. MK

    Can you imagine Pete Rose saying my legs or swing aren’t 100% so I’m going to start the year at AAA, especially after having played in ST games for two weeks.

    • Votto4life

      Pete Rose was a collector. As player manager, he put himself in the line up so he could break Ty Cobb’s record. He did so as a determinant to the team. I would take Joey Votto over Pete Rose every, single day of the week.

      • Wayne Nabors

        Yessir u be right ,he collected 4256 hits,what a collector

      • greenmtred

        Rose obviously was a great hitter and, as I understand it, was very concerned with his own stats. And bet on baseball. Votto played hurt much of last season and, evidently, prior to that. His decision to wait until he is physically sound actually shows selflessness, not selfishness.

      • Melvin

        @ greenmtred – Considering everything Votto has gone through I agree with that.

    • David

      The 1973 season for the Reds did not begin well at all. And Pete Rose was upset about the start of the year for the team, and himself. He complained his thigh was just aching and he could not run.
      “How is Charlie Hustle going to play baseball if he can’t run?” I do remember his saying something like that.

      But somehow Pete overcame his pain in his thigh. He won the batting title that year, hitting 0.333, and collecting 230 hits. Yeah, a collector.
      The Reds rallied in the 2nd half of the season, to a large degree on the bat of Tony Perez, who hit 0.314, 27 HR and 101 rbi’s, with a 0.919 OPS; and a lot of those numbers were in the 2nd half.

      Joey is getting over a very serious surgery to his left shoulder (especially for a pro-athlete). He still doesn’t feel he is physically sharp enough to play at the ML level.

      As the man said…..One last trip around the Sun…one more season, one more year.

    • oklared

      Can you imagine a guy on a computer challenging the toughness of an aged player trying to come back from a serious shoulder surgery. Shoulder surgeries being one of the most unpredictable to come back from. Said player has also come back from numerous other medical setbacks after being written off. Player has been highly productive player for majority of career. Time may prove him to be unable to perform but he probably knows better than you if he is right to play.

    • stuckonthenorthshore

      Why would someone who had been put on a pedestal for over half of his life think like that. I came here for happiness on opening day to get away from NFL junk. However it is all the same everywhere, people that just thrive on beating others down. I truly hope your day went and goes well. Doug, sorry, I constantly click, but seldom type. This has sealed it for me.

  4. Doc

    Votto has half the number of hits Pete Rose had. I guess the definition of ‘hitter’ must include a lot more than hitting.

    • David

      I saw Pete Rose play a lot, and yes, he was a great player. He was and is a pretty lousy human being, so I get the hostility to him. I personally don’t care for him at all, and I am sure that keeps him up late at night. 😉

      I have seen Joey Votto play a lot, and he is a great player. Joey has not, for a lot of his career, been on a team with as much talent as Pete had playing with him for a lot of HIS career. On a World Series talking head show a few year ago, Rose himself said that Joey was an “elite” hitter, and he campaigned with the other commentators (including the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas) to persuade them. He is obviously in the Joey Votto fan club himself.

    • greenmtred

      Different kinds of hitters, Doc. It’s worth remembering that Rose made more outs than any hitter in history, too. Not a knock on his hitting, just a reflection of his longevity.

  5. Melvin

    I have a feeling Votto is feeling better than he has in a looong time. In his mind he’s just waiting for everything to get in sync. He’s really excited and ready to bust out. He’s looking forward to having a lot of fun being Joey Votto again…..and proving a whole lot of people wrong.

  6. MercerRed

    What changed in Votto’s mind from the 2022 season to the start of 2023. He knew he was hurt, hitting .205, and yet he continued to play without alerting the team of his condition. Now to start the ’23 season he says he won’t play until he is ready. IMO, he selfishly hurt the team last year by continuing to play.
    Joey used to be a greater hitter; but, is no longer. The longer he plays while continuing to produce well below career averages only hurts his team now and his minimal chance to make the HOF in the future.

    • Doug Gray

      Maybe he figured that he should try to be fully healthy this year after what happened last year?