Votto closing in on spot on All-Star team

Votto closing in on spot on All-Star team

NEW YORK -- As ironic as it might sound, the All-Star snub heard around baseball might turn out to actually be a good thing for Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

For the casual fan, Votto was likely the best player never heard of. A semi-casual fan might recognize his name because he was one of a few players last season to step away from the game briefly to deal with anxiety issues.

This week, everyone who watches baseball knows Votto.

Although left off the original National League All-Star team, Votto's presence on the All-Star Final Vote ballot has Cincinnati mobilized and fans around the country paying closer attention to him and his career. Over each of the past three days of voting updates, he's been the NL leader among the five candidates.

"Once they find out about you, then you're on the map," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Joey has been kind of under the radar. The last couple of years, it's not like we're household names. We're not on TV as much, unless we were playing some well-known teams.

"The baseball people know Joey Votto. But the people that don't really follow baseball are now following Joey Votto. Who knows? This could have been a blessing in disguise if he gets voted in like this."

A native of Toronto, Votto also hasn't gotten a lot of attention because he doesn't seek a lot of attention. The 26-year-old Canadian is usually polite and respectful to everyone he encounters on the field and inside the clubhouse, but to reporters, he sheds very little light on himself personally. That's just how he wants it.

Diligence is the best word to describe his approach to the game because when he's at the ballpark, he's focused on only one thing -- getting better.

"I'm trying to get to the point where I can separate things and compartmentalize parts of my job," Votto said. "Right now is media time. If I have to talk to someone, I do it. When it's baseball time, I do my job. I try to make slight improvements every day because that's how I feel you make the most gain. I don't think that more attention or less attention makes a difference."

Life outside of baseball has not been the easiest for Votto the past couple of seasons. In August 2008, his 52-year-old father -- also named Joseph -- died unexpectedly. After taking a brief break, Votto went forward with playing and later admitted he did not properly grieve or deal with the loss.

By the following winter, without the distraction of baseball, Votto started to suffer from depression. Time off in May because of the flu and an inner-ear infection added to his troubles and the emotions of losing his father hit like a sledgehammer. Votto suffered panic attacks and had to be hospitalized. The Reds placed Votto on the disabled list and he missed 21 games.

Votto returned in late June 2009 and went on to set a career high with 25 homers and a .322 average in 131 games. He tied his career best with 84 RBIs.

"You want to turn the page and pretend like it never happened but that is pretty impossible," Votto said during Spring Training. "I just want to progress, man. I want to be a little more balanced with my life. There's only so much I want to tell you. I'm doing better and I feel like I'm headed in the right direction. Last year was really a challenging year. I'm hoping for the best and expecting the best."

The best is what Votto has given the Reds this season as he's on a pace to establish new career highs and possibly be the NL's Most Valuable Player. He leads the National League in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and entered Wednesday in the top five of the Triple Crown categories of average, homers and RBIs.

"He's been through a lot," said Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, Votto's closest friend on the team. "He's really learned what makes him work and it works for him and he's on his way to perfecting that. It's another part of his professionalism. Learning how to separate those things is huge. That says a lot about someone that he can be that mentally tough and that prepared day in and day out."

Sometime after voting ends at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, Votto will find out if his work ethic and perseverance will be rewarded with an All-Star bid. Even if the wrong of his being snubbed isn't righted, there's a good chance he will never be overlooked as a player again.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.