We are practically the same person.
Joey Votto is my girls’ favorite player. Has been ever since their great aunt Dale (who may just be #19’s biggest fan) bought them all Votto jerseys. When the Reds are on TV, Ella, Anna and (now) Mia generally ignore most of the game, and instead play with hair bands and build forts out of our couch cushions. But when Joey Votto steps to the plate, they all stop. They turn toward the TV and start to cheer, just as if they were at the game and the PA system sounded the horn.
Da da da dun da daaaaaaa!
They all shout. They all scream. They all ask why I’m frantically pacing in the background behind them, making it clear that they are not nearly as concerned about other unimportant things like “the score.” They clap and clap and clap until the end of every Votto at bat. No matter what the outcome, they still cheer as if he’d just won game seven of the World Series. Then they return to their regularly scheduled fort-building mission.
For the past two years I’ve been dreading one day. The day Joey Votto would leave. Growing up a Cincinnati Reds fan, I was spoiled. My childhood hero, Barry Larkin, was a Red for life. He played his entire career here. I watched him from day one to retirement, donning that Wishbone C above the rim of his cap. I played shortstop for my little league team because I was determined to be like him. If my mom had let me, I’d probably have worn my #11 jersey in the shower.
But players today, especially superstar players like Joey Votto, rarely stay with the same teams their entire career. And they never stay with small market teams like the Cincinnati Reds. So my baseball fandom had been clouded by a storm, ready to strike the day Joey Votto left, when I’d have to explain to my girls why. They wouldn’t be old enough to understand. They’d barely be old enough to drink from cups without sippy lids. But they’d definitely be old enough to be heartbroken.
That all changed this week. When the news broke that Joey Votto had signed a contract extension with the Reds worth nearly as much as it cost to build the Reds’ stadium, I nearly passed out. I didn’t think about the implications that contract may have on the future of the team or their chances of winning. I didn’t even think about bacon (and I ALWAYS think about bacon). All I could think about were my girls, and how they’d be able to watch their childhood hero play for their hometown team for the rest of his career. They’d be able to wear their #19 jerseys (which their great aunt Dale will continue to buy them) well into their grade school years. And we’d all be able to cheer him on together.
As a Dad, I want my kids to have heroes. Teachers, doctors, scientists, military members, firefighters, their mom, etc. In fact, I hope I even make that list one day. But there’s something special about growing up with a sports hero, someone who lets fathers and daughters and sons (and mothers) connect with each other--and with an entire city. They allow you to bring back fun memories of moments shared, which I did with my dad (and my mom, too).
And while no player will ever replace the spot in my heart that I have for Barry Larkin, it looks like Joey Votto will be carving out a brand new one that I can share with my daughters. It’s one that I will value forever and will last me a lifetime.
It will also make it easier to explain to my girls why I spent all their wedding funds on Reds tickets.
I kid … maybe.
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