Cincinnati Reds first baseman, Joey Votto, explained to the media on Tuesday why exactly he left the team on May 30th. He revealed that he has been suffering depression and anxiety attacks after the sudden death of his 52-year-old father, Joseph, in August. He went on the bereavement list from August 9th-15th.
Some of Votto’s issues led to “panicky” moments, and even two hospital visits, “They were overwhelming me to the point where I needed to go to the hospital on two separate occasions — once in San Diego and once that nobody had been told about, I went to the hospital in Cincinnati when the team was on the road [in early June]. It was a very, very scary and crazy night where I had to call 911 at three or four in the morning. It was probably the scariest moment I ever had dealt with in my life, and I went to the hospital that night.”
While living by himself during this tough time in his life, Votto had his mother and three younger brothers to help him out. He was also under doctor’s care. “There were nights that I couldn’t be alone,” Votto explained. “The one night I was alone, the very first night I was alone, was when I went to the hospital. I couldn’t take it. It just got to the point where I felt I was going to die, really.”
“The first day back, I put that all on the back burner and just played baseball until the end of September. He was in my thoughts and I was dealing with it on a daily basis, but as powerful a moment that was to lose your father so young, in a way, I did suppress it. From the beginning of the offseason until Spring Training, I was pretty severely depressed and dealing with the anxieties of grief, sadness and fear and every single emotion you can imagine everyone goes through,” Votto confessed. “I had a really difficult time with it. I was by myself down in Florida. I just was really looking forward to baseball. And when baseball started back up in February, I kind of did the same thing I did last August and threw it all on the side, threw all of my emotions on the backburner and just played baseball again.”
“Baseball was my refuge. When I came on the field, I did my job, and did the best I could and focused on that. Then I went home and I was miserable. That was pretty much my routine every day,” said Votto.
When Votto didn’t have baseball as something to get his mind off of his troubles, his world seemed to fall apart. He missed several games in early May with a stint of the flu. A few weeks later, he started suffering from dizzy spells, which were later diagnosed as an inner-ear infection.
“It was taking the time away from baseball, and recovering from being sick was when the first time all my emotions I had been pushing to the side — that I had been dealing with and really struggling with on a daily basis in the winter — they all hit me. And they hit me 100 times harder than I had been dealing with all offseason,” Votto said.
A few times, Votto even had to leave the game before it was over: once in Arizona on May 12th, another time in San Diego on May 16th, and the last in Milwaukee on May 29th.
“I literally couldn’t stand up,” Votto said. “The way you saw me in Arizona where Dusty [Baker] had to walk me off was similar to the two other occurrences in Milwaukee and San Diego. Although Arizona was a pretty rough time, Milwaukee was by far the worst. I thought I was going to go crazy.”
After the game in Milwaukee, Votto, Baker, GM Walt Jocketty, and head trainer Mark Mann spent more than 40 minutes in a closed-door meeting. They never revealed anything specific to the public, but they did say that Votto’s problems and reasons for leaving were from a “stress-related issue.”
“We told the team as much as we could tell them at the time. The rest of it was for Joey to tell, because it was his business,” said Baker. “I talked to them once or twice and explained as much as I could without betraying his confidentiality to me and Walt.”
Last week, Votto addressed the team in a clubhouse meeting before he left for his Minor League rehab obligation, and revealed his periods of depression that he was having.
Bronson Arroyo, a Reds pitcher, understood Votto, “He said his piece. I think he wanted to let us know the problems he was having were significant enough that he feels bad about not being here with the team. But it was so severe that he had to walk away from the game for a while.”
Now that Votto is back in Cincinnati, he feels like he has to make up for lost time. “Honestly, we could play in Timbuktu for all I care, just as long as I’m playing all nine innings and contributing. There’s nothing like health. I look forward to feeling healthy on a consistent basis.”
“I was having such a difficult time getting through the night that once I felt like I could get through two or three nights of sleep without having the phone beside me and worrying about having to call the hospital,” Votto said, “I felt like I could start playing ball again.”
Votto will always have great memories of his father, and how they used to share their love for baseball and the Reds. “He was a very important person. He would watch every single Reds game. He was the first one to teach me how to play baseball. I played catch with him on a daily basis when I was really young. He was a big fan. He was just in love with what I did and me. He was a great father to me.”
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