Joey Votto first saw Jose Bautista swing a bat during winter ball in the Dominican Republic in 2006.
“He hit a home run, the ball came off his bat and I remember thinking ‘my, oh my,’” said the Cincinnati Reds first baseman.
Votto was a young buck of 22 with the Leones del Escogido, while Bautista, then 25, was coming off a 16-homer season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and playing for Águilas Cibaeńas.
The two met for the first time back stage at the Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington before Game 3 of the 2010 World Series when each was presented with the Hank Aaron Award for their respective leagues during a special ceremony.
“It was a positive meeting, we were both getting awards, I was able to see a lot of Jose highlights ... what a great swing,” said the Etobicoke native.
The two Hank Aaron winners, emblematic of being the best sluggers in their leagues, will go face-to-face, toe-to-toe and tape-measure shot to tape-measure shot next weekend when the Jays visit the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati during inter-league play.
“You know when you see guys get a big contract you want to see them do well and succeed,” Votto told reporters on a conference call from San Francisco. “It not only looks like he’s succeeding, he’s improved. He’s the best hitter in the game.”
Bautista took an American League leading .345 average into Friday night’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox. He also led with 20 home runs and has 41 RBIs.
Votto, meanwhile, leads the NL with a .336 average with eight home runs an 38 RBIs. He also leads with 53 walks ... a source of concern for Votto.
“I’m seeing maybe three or four pitches a series to hit, I had some stretches like that last season,” said Votto of his MVP season. “Last year I did a good job but I’m still not getting enough quality pitches in the strike zone that I can do any damage with.”
Votto faces two choices: take a walk and keep the line moving, the way Carlos Delgado and Frank Thomas did in their prime and the way Bautista does now; or expand the strike zone and try and hit pitches out of the zone.
The Reds, who won the division a year ago, were two games over .500 Friday going into the second game of their series against the San Francisco Giants.
“We had a good start to a 10-game trip with a shutout (Thursday night),” Votto said.