Local stars reunited

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- They were born 117 days apart in 1983.

George Kottaras entered the world May 16 at Scarborough Hospital.

Joey Votto Jr., the son of a chef, was born a few minutes after midnight on Sept. 10 at St. Joseph's hospital in Etobicoke.

And yesterday they stood roughly 117 feet apart as the World Team took the field against Team USA in the annual Futures Game to kick off the all-star festivities. The U.S. won 8-5 before roughly 25,000 at PNC Park.

Votto was at first base, hitting in the No. 3 spot for the World. Kottaras was catching and batting seventh.

They have been a lot closer than that before.

They sat beside each other in the first-base dugout at Connorvale Park for Bob Smythe's Etobicoke Rangers as Grade 10 students.

Two Toronto players as Canada's representation on the World team? What happened to the British Columbia domination?

"There are lots of good players from Canada," Kottaras said. "I don't think it's a case of one province dominating the other."

Kottaras began playing baseball the year before for the York Pioneers and coach David Blair. The next year Kottaras and Votto played for Smythe, which was a learning experience in a few areas.

Obviously they learned the finer points of the game and they learned how to be groundskeepers, as all Etobicoke players did, making Connorvale one of Ontario's two best-kept diamonds.

"Bobby used to yell at us if the hose (for watering the field) hit the base line," Kottaras said. "Or he'd yell: 'Get off the field' if we were out there in the rain. If we didn't get off -- he turned out the lights."

Votto remembers he wasn't the best player on that team. He picked right fielder Warren Bradley, who went on to attend the University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, B.C., and infielder Mark Capone, star of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, as being better.

"Georgie and I hit in the middle of the lineup, but back then we weren't the best," Votto said.

From the Rangers, Kottaras went to the Ontario Blue Jays where he played for coach Danny Bleiwas.

Kottaras was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 20th round (595th overall) of the 2002 draft out of Connors State College in Oklahoma. He signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Florida for the fall of 2003.

Roughly 10 days before re-entering the draft, the Padres and scout Lane Decker got Kottaras to sign. He received a $300,000 signing bonus.

Votto played a season for Mel Oswald's Canadian Thunderbirds before returning to Etobicoke, and was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 2002 draft (44th overall). He received a signing bonus of $600,000 from the Reds and scout John Castleberry. Had the Reds not selected him, the New York Yankees and scouting legend Dick Groch would have used their first pick to take Votto.

LIGHTING UP CHATTANOOGA

Votto made his debut at 18 with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Reds and has played at rookie-class Billings, class-A Dayton, single-A Potomac, single-A Sarasota and double-A Chattanooga, where he is hitting .315 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs.

After two years of college, Kottaras played his first pro game at age 20 at rookie-class Idaho Falls. He later went to class-A Fort Wayne, class-A Lake Elsinore and double-A Mobile, where this season he is hitting .280 with eight homers and 29 RBIs. He saw his old college pal Humberto Sanchez from Connors State -- now a Tiger prospect -- throw a scoreless first for the World.

Kottaras doubled into the right-field corner on a 2-2 pitch against Homer Bailey of the Reds in the second and hit a 1-0 pitch to right for a two-run homer against Phillip Hughes, a Yankees prospect.

Before the game he was asked the best part of the day and he answered "just being here." After the game he changed it to "rounding the bases."

Votto singled off Jason Hirsh of the Houston Astros in the first and flied out to the warning track in the third.

Kottaras's father and mother Peter and Marie were at the game. Younger brother Peter was playing for the Ontario Blue Jays at a tournament in Memphis.

Votto's mother Wendy and his twin brothers Ryan and Paul were at the game, along with his girlfriend Jenne, from Bradenton, Fla.

From birthdates 117 days apart, to the Etobicoke Rangers to being two of the World's best hitters.

Not bad eh?


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