“He’s intense but mellow. He’s Canadian, you know.”
Reds first baseman and Triple Crown threat Joey Votto graces the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, and we recommend him today not necessarily because he’s a Red (though we’ve got a little of the bandwagon fever this summer), nor because he’s Canadian (which he is), nor because he is in many ways the baseball equivalent of John Stockton: professional, workmanlike, no frills, all around team guy, and virtually unrecognizable outside the world of sports. (L. Jon Wertheim’s article detailing all these traits is here.)
No, we recommend Votto (rhymes with “lotto”) for something that Wertheim’s article only glances over: his bout with, and impressive rebound from, depression. Votto’s father died in 2008, and Votto — in his words — “threw all my emotions aside and just played baseball.” Despite a sadness that he called “totally overwhelming,” Votto played out the season. His grief caught up with him in 2009 when he experienced panic attacks so severe that Votto said, “It got to the point where I thought I was going to die.” Votto admitted himself to the hospital and went on the disabled list.
When he came out, he had a different perspective on baseball: “My attitude changed,” he tells Wertheim. “I needed to do a better job of reflecting and balancing …. Not to disrespect the game or disrespect the fans, but baseball doesn’t own my life. I’m not going to allow it to.”
By not allowing baseball to own his life, Votto has in turn become a reluctant All-Star and potential MVP candidate. Even if you harbor some inexplicable deep-seated hatred of Canadians, it’d still be hard not to pull for Joey Votto. The only thing going against him is that, as detailed in the SI article, he’s a Lakers fan. So he’s not perfect. But we’ll still pull for him.
SI also had an article on baseball and mental illness earlier in the summer entitled “A Light in the Darkness,” which references Votto as well.