Last night, I saw what I’ve been waiting to see since June: Joey Votto and Elly De La Cruz running at the same time. Votto batted ahead of him, so he had at least a 90-foot head start.
I was honestly afraid De La Cruz would lap him. I have no idea what the MLB ruling is if and when that happens, but I had visions of De La Cruz jogging with great furor behind Votto, as though he was standing behind him on airport moving walkway and the gate agent just made the final boarding call and Votto was just standing there with his rolly bag.
It didn’t come to that, fortunately; Votto beat him to the plate, and immediately turned his attention to the location of the ball. As De La Cruz rounded third, Votto got low, turned his palms to the ground, and waited. Slide, kid.
He did not, of course, have long to wait. De La Cruz’s face skidded to a stop just before Votto’s shoes, and the first baseman bent to meet him, and I have no idea what was said or yelled, but it was probably advisory.
Whether it was about how to conduct a slide at the plate or life in general is beside the point. The point is that Joey Votto is 40 years old and De La Cruz just got legal to enter the Hard Rock Casino a few months ago.
One Bally Sports commentator mentioned that the Reds staff wasn’t entirely sure if De La Cruz was even done physically growing yet, as though he’s going to need a new pair of school shoes before Christmas break. Votto, of course, is done with that phase of life– was done with it long ago– but while his body might occupy the far-range opposite of De La Cruz’s physical circumstances, he is mentally just as thrilled to be playing ball as he was as a Canadian child.
When the time comes, whether in a few weeks or next year at this time, Joey Votto will be done and he must at last truly consider what comes next. He is both a natural commentator and coach, and while I’d love to hear what Joey Votto thinks about life in general on a daily basis all summer long, the lure of remaining physically close to the game, rather than in an air-conditioned booth, likely appears to him more.
Back to Work
The roots of this are in the trajectory of his behavior throughout his career. When Jim Day asked him why he suppressed his natural humor for so many years, only recently willing to state his anticipation for Fresca after a long night in the dugout, Votto answered that when he was coming up as a rookie, the message from his clubhouse elders was to keep his head down, his shirt tucked, and his mouth shut. So he did, and likely received a more complete baseball education in the process.
Given Votto’s work ethic, that rookie is still in there somewhere, and we saw a flash of him as Votto tipped his batting helmet to a standing ovation as he took the field in what could be his last home game. He waved to all corners of the stadium, pounded his chest, and then pointed to the batter’s box. That was, after all, his office, and he was, after all, on the clock. So: Back to work.
He was receiving just reward for an entire career in the same city, and he could have squeezed every last decibel of applause from the crowd, but his mind was on how he was going to play this AB with no men on and the Reds with a slight lead.
And that is why he was receiving the ovation in the first place.
Joey Votto could review the numbers of this season, feel the ache in his shoulder, and decide to call it quits. He might even do so partially because the Reds roster glut means that he is willing to forfeit his own playing time in favor of those scrambling for his place in the lineup.
Or, he takes some Advil, says screw it, and shows up in Arizona on Valentine’s Day.
He must weigh leaving the field with some bangers still in the tank– sparing us the sight of his full decline– against absorbing every single possible second in the sport he so dearly loves.
What we do know is that youth is just behind him, chasing him down, a locomotive he can’t stop. But instead of just wildly attempting to outrun it all, his response is to face it, pass on what he can, and maybe get in an extra run while he’s at it.