Award-chasing Votto has priorities in order

Joey Votto is serious about his first-base job with the Cincinnati Reds, just not consumed 24/7 by the game. "I've got a life outside of baseball." Family and his dog, Maris, rank at the top of the list.

Canadian's pursuit of Triple Crown, MVP awards take back seat to family, dog

Reds first baseman Joey Votto stood third in the National League in average, home runs and tied for third in RBIs entering play Sept. 20, with the Triple Crown leader in each category boasting totals of .340, 39 and 107, respectively. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

Looking at his meticulous preparation, intense approach and seemingly unmatched work ethic, one could easily draw the wrong conclusion about Joey Votto.

Yes, he's serious about his first-base job with the Cincinnati Reds, just not consumed 24/7 by the game.

"I've got a life outside of baseball," Votto told Sports Illustrated recently.

More on that later.

NL Triple Crown race

 Player  Ave.  HRs  RBIs
 Joey Votto  .324  34  104
 Carlos Gonzalez  .340  32  107
 Albert Pujols  .307  39  107

*Statistics as of Sept. 20

These days, there is plenty of discussion in Cincinnati about the Toronto-born Votto's attempt at becoming the first National League player since Joe Medwick in 1937 to win the Triple Crown as the leader in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.

A serious threat in the first half of the season, Votto's play began to tail off earlier this month — .259 average and two homers in 15 games through Sept. 16 — leading many to believe there wouldn't be a Triple Crown winner in 2010 among Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez, St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Votto.

As of Sept. 20, he stood third in the NL in average (.324) and home runs (34), and tied for third in RBIs (104), with the leader in each category boasting totals of .340, 39 and 107, respectively.

Rare combination

"The type of numbers he's putting up, there is so much respect for even being mentioned as somebody that's in the Triple Crown [hunt]," former Blue Jays first baseman John Olerud said over the phone.

"There are so many guys that are specialized home run guys or those who hit for average. The combination is so rare."

Attempts by to reach Votto for comment were unsuccessful.

Olerud was never part of a Triple Crown race during his 16 major-league seasons. He batted over .300 just four times and managed a career-best 24 home runs in 1993, the same year he topped the American League in hitting at .363.

"There was a lot of attention and interviews, but for me, I felt more pressure when I wasn't playing well," said Olerud. "When you feel good at the plate and you're hitting well, there's a lot less pressure on you than when you're struggling at the plate and going through a slump."

Olerud believes the fact Cincinnati is in a pennant race should only help Votto maintain his team-first approach rather than being distracted by personal glory.

Votto has stood out in the field this season after being maligned for his defensive play earlier in his major-league career. ((Al Behrman/Associated Press))

Votto remains the leading candidate for NL most valuable player honours, with the Reds holding a seemingly comfortable six-game lead atop the Central Division as of Sept. 20, but he hasn't lost track of what is most important in his life: family.

In June 2009, Votto stopped burying himself in baseball and avoiding the grief of losing his father, Joe, suddenly at age 52 the previous year.

Panic attacks

While visiting Toronto for an interleague series, he told reporters of his serious panic attacks, triggered by the grief, and how he ended up in hospital on several occasions.

So far, the 27-year-old Votto has made it through this season without a recurrence of the anxiety and depression that cost him 31 games a year ago.

The oldest of Wendy Votto's four sons, he has also bonded with his closest brother Tyler, 22.

"They've become more like brothers again," Wendy Votto told "Losing your dad at 52 … it's tough, and we all have to pick up the pieces and move forward in a positive way.

"They play online video games after [Joey] finishes a ball game. It's kind of his way of winding down and kind of Tyler's way of winding down."

Tyler wasn't much into athletics during high school, but he has recently taken his brother's advice on nutrition and physical fitness and improved his physique, all thanks to Joey, said his mother.

Tyler, who recently travelled to Cincinnati to celebrate Joey's birthday, has also returned to school and is in his third year of psychology studies at York University in Toronto.

"He has a job that he loves, he goes to the gym, he's really made some good friends," Wendy said. "He's had a year of a very close bond with his oldest brother."

Mom reports that Joey is now in a happier place these days as well after buying a dog named after former home run king Roger Maris.

"Being a ball player … you're living out of a suitcase for three days, going to another hotel for three days, then go home to your apartment, but there's nobody there," said Wendy Votto. "After a while you want to have somebody say, 'Hey, how are you?' when you walk through the door. Now, he has a dog that says that.

"Joey's taken a serious role in training this dog. He really enjoys just going for a walk with Maris [along the Ohio River], and putting Maris in his car and going for a drive. That's kind of his thing."

It's just one of the many important parts of Votto's life outside baseball.