‘Totally overwhelmed’ Votto returns to Cincinnati’s lineup
TORONTO — Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto grew so ‘‘totally overwhelmed’’ with grief and anxiety about the death of his father that he needed time off from baseball to recover.
The slugging first baseman made the revelation Tuesday, hours after he was activated off the disabled list and put in the starting lineup for a game against the Blue Jays in his hometown of Toronto.
Votto went on the DL May 30 with stress-related issues after missing games earlier this season with an inner-ear problem.
What fans, media and even teammates did not know was that Votto had been battling anxiety attacks brought on by lingering grief over his father’s death last August. Joseph Votto was 52. ‘‘He was the first one to teach me how to play baseball,’’ Joey Votto said. ‘‘I played catch with him on a daily basis when I was real young. He was a big fan, he was just in love with what I did and me. He was a great father to me.’’
Votto did not disclose details of his father’s death.
A pivotal player for the Reds, Votto is batting .357 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs this season. Since he went on the disabled list, the Reds have gone 8-13 and seen their scoring fall by more than one run per game.
‘‘We’ve missed him big time,’’ said Reds manager Dusty Baker, who hadn’t expected Votto to return before a series at Cleveland that begins Thursday.
Votto was initially able to deal with his grief after his father died but things got worse when the baseball season ended.
‘‘From the beginning of the offseason till spring training I was pretty severely depressed,’’ Votto said.
‘‘I was dealing with the anxieties of grief and sadness and fear and every single emotion that you can imagine that everybody goes through.’’
Spring training gave Votto something positive to focus on, and playing two World Baseball Classic games for Canada in front of family and friends in Toronto was ‘‘a breath of fresh air.’’ But Votto’s grief had not subsided and eventually got the better of him when he was sidelined by dizziness and inner-ear problems in May.
‘‘All my emotions that I had been pushing to the side, that I was dealing with, really struggling with on a daily basis in the winter, they all hit me, and they hit me 100 times more than I had been dealing with all offseason,’’ Votto said.
After his ear recovered, Votto had to be taken out of games in Arizona and San Diego because of anxiety.
‘‘I could tell there was something going on,’’ Votto said. ‘‘I felt like I couldn’t recover and it was a feeling of anxiety, I had this feeling in my chest.’’
Two weeks later, during a May 29 game in Milwaukee, Votto had another attack, his worst yet, leaving in the second inning. Feeling ‘‘totally overwhelmed,’’ he was placed on the disabled list the following day.
‘‘Going out on the field, I just couldn’t do it anymore,’’ Votto said. ‘‘The stuff I was dealing with off the field finally seeped its way into the game. I just had to put an end to it because I really couldn’t be out there. I physically couldn’t do my job.’’
Votto acknowledged going to the hospital twice because of anxiety attacks, once in San Diego and a second time in Cincinnati after he was already on the DL and the rest of the team was away on a road trip.
‘‘It was just a very, very scary and crazy night where I had to call 911 at like three or four in the morning,’’ Votto said. ‘‘It was probably the scariest moment I had ever dealt with in my life.’’
The isolation from his mother, Wendy, and three younger brothers in suburban Toronto was hardest to handle at night.
‘‘The very first night I was alone was when I went to the hospital,’’ Votto said. ‘‘I couldn’t take it. It got to the point where I thought I was going to die.’’
Since he went on the DL, family and friends have been spending time with Votto to help him deal with his anxiety, part of which stemmed from feeling he had to fill his father’s void.
‘‘I’m the oldest brother, I feel like I’m responsible for my family now,’’ Votto said.
Votto’s teammates had been unaware what was wrong until he spoke to them last week. Talking about his emotions has helped deal with his grief, he said.
‘‘I really hadn’t acknowledged how important it is to express the things I had been dealing with on the inside.’’
Votto played a total three games for farm clubs in Sarasota and Dayton before rejoining the Reds.
‘‘Once I felt like I could get through two or three nights of sleep without having the phone beside me worrying about having to call the hospital, once I got through that, I felt like I could start playing ball again.’’
To make room on the roster for Votto, the Reds placed utility player Wilkin Castillo on the disabled list with a season-ending shoulder injury.