'I thought I was going to die'

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Joey Votto started by saying he was not going to try to be overly dramatic.

And then he told of a night when his Cincinnati Reds teammates were playing in St. Louis earlier this month.

He was in Cincinnati.

Alone.

Battling depression.

In trying to deal with his grief after his father Joe's sudden death last August at age 52, he suffered an anxiety attack.

"I got to the point where I thought I was going to die, really," Votto told reporters in the first-base dugout before the Reds played the Blue Jays last night.

"I dialed 911 and went to emergency at three or four a.m. It was a very, very scary and crazy night, it was probably the scariest moment I ever dealt with in my life."

Votto was not being overly dramatic, he was explaining how he was dealing with real life.

And on that night, earlier this month, he wasn't handling it well.

Two days after Father's Day, he was back in the Reds lineup, hitting third and dealing with it, answering questions for the first time since he went on the disabled list May 29.

Originally, Votto had planned on making a statement ... period.

The original game plan was for him to rehab 10 games in the minors. Instead, after four games, he was facing lefty Brian Tallet.

As always, he was polite. Twice when he gestured he bumped microphones. He quickly apologized.

He answered questions sincerely. The only time his voice cracked was when someone asked him the name of his father.

"I'm a lucky man, I have both my parents," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

"I don't know how I would have handled losing my father at age 24.

"I do know Joey is a quality young man who cares about his teammates. I asked him once why he never gets angry on the field when something goes wrong and he said: 'I don't want to show up my teammates.' "

Votto missed six games on bereavement leave (Aug. 9-15) when his father died, but returned to the Reds and put his grieving on the "back burner."

"My father 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, I suppressed my feelings," he said.

'DIFFICULT TIME'

"From the start of the offseason until spring training, I was severely depressed, dealing with the anxieties of grief, sadness, fear and every emotion you can imagine one goes through. I had a difficult time."

Training camp began at Sarasota, Fla., which led to the World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre and a reunion with his former Etobicoke coach Bob Symth, who Votto arranged to fly in from Ladysmith, B.C. Votto managed to put his grieving aside. He was Canada's best hitter, going 5-for-9 (.556) in losses to Team USA and Italy.

It wasn't until May when Votto was sidelined -- missing nine games, leaving three others -- because of an upper respiratory and inner-ear infection that the grieving returned.

"Being sick was the first time the emotions I'd tried to push to the side and deal with on a daily basis in the winter hit me. They hit me 100 times harder than the off-season."

The anxiety attacks had Votto seeking hospital help when the Reds were in San Diego and in Cincinnati. This was besides his emergency 911 call.

"There were nights I couldn't be alone. The very first night I was alone was when I went to the hospital. I couldn't take it."

I lost my father at age 19.

And my mother six months later.

People came to the funeral home and said: "I know how you feel."

No one knows how you feel.

How hard it was for Joey Votto Jr. to lose his father, a man who taught him to play ball, who would e-mail asking if his son should go to a Perfect Game showcase, who was there in 2002 when the Reds gave him a $600,000 US signing bonus at 3 a.m. and never missed a Reds game.

Few knew how Votto felt, until yesterday.


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