Does Joey Votto want to be here?
I don't mean in Cincinnati, where he seems to enjoy himself walking around wearing comfortable jackets with a great big dog on a leash. I mean, like, in baseball. His comments during his incredible season-closing streak (and his team's very bad horrible streak) lacked the usual playing-out-the-string insouciance. There was no "it's a team sport, but it's nice to play well," or "have to find the silver lining in a tough stretch." It was much more "this is not fun and terrible." Or "have you bastards even read Schopenhauer?"
I think about Joey Votto a lot. We all do, especially after a .314/.459/.541 season. But I'll always remember when he was on stage at Redsfest for the Kids Press Conference. It's honestly my favorite part of Redsfest, because I am basically eight years old and if I got accreditation I'd ask what Homer's favorite breakfast cereal is. But when some kid asked what the ballplayers would do without baseball, both Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce talked about how there never was any life without baseball. They were drafted in the first round out of high school and never gave any thought to another life. Joey Votto said that he'd be a teacher.
It's tough to imagine that Votto meant it. He was probably just doing his own personal sort of PR, trying to convince kids to respect their teachers, stay off drugs, drink 2% milk, and so on and so forth. But the moment caught me. Joey Votto thinks about life outside of baseball. Maybe I should, too?
The immensely talented Joey Votto spent his year surrounded by no talent. The Reds were more of Star Trek's red shirts. Empty suits. And Eugenio Suarez. The end of the year usually has some sort of hijinx involved, even for teams out of the race. Some sort of goofiness prevails since this is a kid's game and all of that. But Todd Frazier looked as tired as any new dad, Brandon Phillips stopped smiling, and Jay Bruce looked lost.
Following this team from the West Coast is essentially trying to root for a team from the past. It's tough to catch games that occur during the evening commute and by the time I woke up every day, things already happened. It's a frightening feeling, in a way. All fans feel powerless, but from a thousand miles west it is more like watching the Reds through a spyglass. You can yell at Jay not to swing at that slider, but he can't hear. You can tell Joey Votto that he's playing a whale of a game, but he's in his own head.
I could see these bright spots: Raisiel's offspeed stuff, Eugenio's ability to take a pitch to right field, but I could also see how these bright spots might be extinguished. Raisiel's small. Eugenio's heavy. My expectations are preconceived disappointments all.
And in the midst of this was Joey Votto, knuckling off cutters and being patient on loping curves. Playing the best ball of his life on a ship in the middle of a tempest.
I don't know Mr. Votto, but I don't think he particularly likes the crowd. I can't imagine him giving a Brucian toast to "it's all because of the fans." I think he likes doing something he excels at for an obscene amount of money, and I think he enjoys the applause. But watching him in 2015, I don't think it was for the love of the game, you know? That would be absurd in a 98-loss season.
The buzzcut-era Joey Votto reminds me of a book. Or more precisely, the forward to a book. John Williams' Stoner is not about what you think, but rather about a middling professor at Mizzou in the middle of the 20th century. It's a sparely-written account, and the forward sets up the protagonist, William Stoner, as a hero. Why? Because even when things go to shit – or even especially when things go to shit – Stoner works. He is a decent man doing a decent job in the face of indecency. This is inspiring stuff.
And in the face of what counts in baseball turns for unending misery, Joey Votto just went to work. This is no small thing. Y'all remember Operation Shutdown? It takes an incredible single-mindedness to achieve greatness when in the midst of sub-mediocrity.
As people may have surmised from my semi-occasional hangouts over here, it has been a rough year for me professionally. Mediocrity, in its professional form, seems to take the forms of hobgoblins who really want you to join them. Be one with the mediocrity! Make enough to pay rent, buy whisky, and stream depressing music for free! That's not such a bad way to spend your time cresting the age of 30, are the hobgoblins right?
I was very tempted to think this way until September, when I'd see Joey Votto going 2-3 with a double and two walks yet again. Until I saw Votto talking about his anger at the losing and his single-minded determination to be something great for others to hew onto. To not just play some music as the Titanic goes down, but to kick out the jams.
Just because someone can be an inspiration doesn't make them any fun. The Reds are still in the "entertainment" ghetto in my mind. I watch baseball because it is fun, and it was hard to call much of this season any "fun." It's not even really worth doing some sort of post-mortem on this season, you know? That implies that there is a question as to what happened and why. The pitching was bad and the outfield depth was thin. That's not a post-mortem. When the coroner receives a body missing its head, he doesn't check for cyanide poisoning.
I can, and still, and can still go to this community to be fun. It's a refuge from the world-encapsulating shittiness that can sometimes surround us. I can try to be a Joey Votto from 9-5, but the truth is I'm no Joey Votto even eight hours at a time. I just want Red Reporter to be -good- even if the Reds we report on are -bad-. I haven't really figured out what a good Red Reporter would look like, but I appreciate y'all trying to do the same with me, one day at a time.
So while I'm unclear on where Joey Votto wants to be, I'm very clear on where I want to be. On Red Reporter, even on week-long losing streaks. Where we can exult in the little greatnesses and take shelter during the little miseries over the course of a summer. I really hope we can have some fun here, even if none of us are a a patient first baseman with thighs that would make Michaelangelo faint.
Here's to another offseason, and one in which I hope we have more fun than we've had since March.