Choo, Votto to showcase 'Tokki' nicknames

Veterans shared special bond as teammates with Reds in 2013

Choo, Votto to showcase 'Tokki' nicknames

CINCINNATI -- Shin-Soo Choo was a member of the Reds for only one season in 2013, but the veteran outfielder and talented hitter left an indelible mark on first baseman Joey Votto.

The feeling is apparently mutual. When it was announced Wednesday that special jerseys with nicknames on the back would be worn on Players Weekend from Aug. 25-27, Votto and Choo hearkened back to their season together in Cincinnati four years ago.

Choo will have "Tokki 1" on his No. 17 jersey for the Rangers, while Votto will have "Tokki 2" on his No. 19 jersey for the Reds. Tokki is the Korean word for rabbit. Votto explained how the name came about.

"He was performing really well to the point that I kept telling him all the time, 'I'm trying to keep up with you, I'm trying to catch you. How can I catch you? How can I beat you on the season?'" Votto said.

About halfway through that season, Votto asked Choo if he had ever been to the dog track. Choo replied that he had.

"I said, 'You know those rabbits in the middle that spin around the center of the dog track that dogs chase but can never catch?'" Votto said. "He said, 'Yep.' I said, 'That's how I feel about you. No matter how much I chase, I can't catch you.' [Choo] said, 'Oh yeah, that's a tokki.' I said, 'What?' He goes, 'A rabbit [is Korean for] tokki.' I said, 'OK, from now on, you're my tokki.' Every day we would say what's up to each other and we'd call each other 'Tokki.'"

When the season ended, Votto led the National League with a .435 on-base percentage, while Choo was second at .423.

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"Maybe three-quarters into the year and by the end of it, he said, 'You're my tokki.' He was basically saying, 'I'm trying to catch up with you now,'" Votto said. "By the end, he was Tokki 1 and I was Tokki 2. It's just kind of a full-circle thing that we both put the word rabbit on the back of our jerseys. I thought it was kind of cool that we got to use a Korean word and got to share something with a former teammate. It's an inside joke between the two of us that we get to share with everybody else now."

Choo, who was acquired from the Indians the previous winter, left as a free agent following the 2013 season that ended with the Reds being eliminated by the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million contract with Texas.

Votto still considers Choo to be one of his all-time favorite teammates. Although they rarely communicate via text or phone calls, Votto said they try to get together in person when time allows.

"He's the No. 1 Tokki. I'm the No. 2 Tokki. And numbers matter," Votto said. "I'm trying to keep up with Shin-Soo Choo, Tokki 1."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.