Etobicoke’s Joey Votto smacked pitches in the last of the four covered batting cages outside the clubhouse yesterday, sweat colouring the back of his Cincinnati Reds T-shirt a dark grey.
Standing right behind him: Right-fielder Jay Bruce, bat over shoulder, waiting.
After about three minutes of steady swings, Votto left the cage and sat down on a nearby bench.
He was replaced in the cage by Bruce, who got in his few minutes. Soon, they were sitting side-by-side on the bench, waiting for their next turns.
Like it or not, they’re linked.
They’re different ages, play different positions and have vastly different personalities.
One thing in common: A friendship formed in the crucible of high expectations, finally on the rise this season on a team that’s had eight straight losing seasons.
“They’re good citizens,” manager Dusty Baker said, providing his highest compliment.
It’s a stretch to say that it’s entirely up to those two — the Reds have gotten much younger in a lot of areas.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips won his first Gold Glove last season at age 27. Johnny Cueto became a rookie fixture in the rotation at age 22.
Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion had a career-high 26 homers at age 25.
But it was the emergence of the rookie first baseman from Toronto and the rookie right-fielder that allowed the franchise to plunge into a makeover.
The Reds traded right-fielder Ken Griffey Jr. and left-fielder Adam Dunn, who had been the faces of the franchise for most of the decade.
Now, it’s Votto and Bruce leading a lineup that’s a lot younger.
Are they ready for this?
“Honestly, I think so,” Votto said. “But we’ve got to play well and perform. If we’re going to be those guys on the team, we can’t be the losing group.
“We’ve got to move in a better direction and be that group of guys that puts us over the hump and gets us over .500 and, eventually, into the playoffs.”
In the clubhouse, they gravitated toward each other.
“I’m a little older than Jay,” Votto said.
“But the fact that we got to the big leagues right around the same time, that gives us something in common, something to talk about.
“We’re still young in our careers. We want to achieve the same type of things and do the same thing with the team, and we want to do it together.”