Votto feeling better after rough season

Votto feeling better after rough season

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Protective of his privacy, Reds first baseman Joey Votto would rather walk barefooted on hot coals while having a root canal before he shares glimpses of his life off the field.

So, you're not going to hear much about his offseason vacation, where he went or what he did without baseball all winter.

"Just average things, same as everyone else," Votto replied Tuesday, hanging in the clubhouse after taking his physical. Cincinnati began its full-squad workouts Tuesday afternoon.

Who needs to look at vacation pictures anyway? The bottom line that's most important to the Reds, Votto's teammates and fans is that he says he's doing OK physically -- and yes, mentally.

A private issue became very public last season when Votto revealed he was being treated for depression and anxiety. He missed 21 games on the disabled list from May 30-June 22. On the day of his activation, which happened to come while the Reds were in his hometown of Toronto, he talked openly about suffering panic attacks and the need to go to the hospital.

At the time, Votto was less than a year removed from the sudden passing of his 52-year-old father, Joseph, in August 2008. He admitted to suppressing his grief by focusing entirely on baseball and was still trying to sort everything out emotionally.

That is a process that is still continuing.

"You want to turn the page and pretend like it never happened, but that is pretty impossible," Votto said. "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 Reds' best hitter, the 26-year-old Votto led the club last season with a .322 average, 25 home runs, 82 runs scored and 38 doubles despite the distractions. His on-base plus slugging percentage of .981 was ranked third in the National League. In 131 games, he matched his rookie season total with 84 RBIs while playing in 20 less games.

Before going on the DL, Votto had missed time with the flu and an inner-ear infection that brought on dizzy spells and exasperated his anxiety. But after his return, he played in 94 of the Reds' final 95 games.

There have been other cases of players needing a mental break before resuming careers. The most known example is Royals ace Zack Greinke, who battled a social anxiety disorder in 2006 and had to take a leave from the team. Last season, he was the American League Cy Young Award winner.

Shortstop Khalil Greene missed time with the Cardinals last season, also to be treated for social anxiety disorder. Now with the Rangers, Greene informed his new club Sunday that he would be unable to report to Spring Training because he is again dealing with the same issue.

Meanwhile, Votto is hoping for another productive season for Cincinnati, but also a healthier one.

"I love what I do. I really enjoy my teammates," he said. "They showed a side of themselves last year you don't see. They were supportive and helpful. I'm looking forward to living a more balanced life. But I care about the team and about winning. We're setting ourselves up to succeed. It's a combination. Baseball means so much to my life, but I don't want to overload myself."

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