Joey Votto is the student and the teacher

He's been a four-time all-star, an NL MVP and a Gold Glover, but Canadian slugger Joey Votto is still looking for ways to improve both himself and his Reds teammates.

Canadian slugger always looking to improve himself and his teammates

Joey Votto is one of the most decorated baseball players in Canadian history. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Joey Votto has plenty to hang his hat on since breaking into the majors 10 years ago.

The Canadian slugger is a four-time all-star, a National League MVP, and a Gold Glover. He's easily one of the best players in baseball.

But Votto doesn't get caught up in past accomplishments.

The Etobicoke, Ont., native, who was back home this week as his Cincinnati Reds took on the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game set at the Rogers Centre, says he's still trying to learn and improve — both himself and his teammates.

The Reds finished with a losing record the past three seasons after making the post-season in three of the previous four years, and Votto knows it's on him to rebuild the team's winning culture.

"I have to do my job," he says. "I can't just mail it in and be happy with that. I feel obligated to play as well as I can and perform at a very high level."

Don Long, right, has been Votto's hitting coach for the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

'Always striving to get better'

Votto is a career .311 hitter, but his willingness to work on his game is what impresses Don Long, who is in his fourth season as hitting coach for the Reds.

"As well as he's done, he's always striving to get better — as a hitter, as a defender, as a baserunner — all parts of his game," says Long.

The Reds' first baseman is continually adjusting his approach at the plate.

That's part of the reason why Votto has finished seven seasons in the top 10 in batting average in the National League, and has led the NL in on-base percentage and walks five and four times, respectively.

"The first bit [of this season] I felt like I was attacked quite a bit in the [strike] zone. So I have to answer that. If you're a boxer, you can't stand there and get punched, you've got to counter punch," says Votto. "The last little bit it's been the fringe of the zone because I'm gaining a reputation for being more aggressive in the zone."

"There's always going to be new challenges and that's the thing I take the most pride in — paying attention to the trends and how I need to adapt to them."

Take the opening game against the Jays, when Votto grounded out in all three at-bats only to respond with two home runs in the final two games of the series.

Hitting clinic

On a ball club where the average age is 27.5, Long knows the way Votto adapts and carries himself on a daily basis isn't lost on his teammates.

"The things that he does within his at-bats — plate discipline, how he competes when he gets to two strikes — that's really had an impact on a lot of guys," says Long.

Billy Hamilton has been Votto's teammate since 2013 and cherishes the opportunity to grow alongside someone he considers a brother and a future Hall of Famer.

Billy Hamilton, right, is making the most of his opportunity to play alongside Votto. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

As a rookie, the Reds' centre fielder was intimidated by Votto, putting his head down if he ever made eye contact with the star and leaving the batting cage immediately if Votto needed it.

But it wasn't long before Hamilton stopped fearing Votto and realized that he could go to him for anything, baseball-related or not.

Hamilton just had to ask.

"When he's hitting, I'm in there watching," says Hamilton. "I'm listening to him talk with the hitting coach but also listening to him [talk] about his approach, what type of hitter he wants to be, what he wants to do in this situation, or what type of pitches he wants to [hit]."

Give and take

Votto feels rejuvenated on a team full of youngsters who are willing to put in extra work to get better.

"There's something infectious about that, there's something about being around that sort of energy," says Votto.

"If you ask any player, especially an older player, they can feed off of that and gain something from that. I certainly feel that way."

Long notes that Votto has a give-and-take relationship with his teammates, something that isn't the easiest or most common thing for players of Votto's stature.

Hamilton says all Votto's teammates have to do is open their ears.

"He's not going to tell you how to hit. He's not going to tell you what to do, [or] what you should do. But he's going to tell you what he likes to do.

"If you want to listen to it, it's all up to you, but he wants to help everybody."


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