Joey Votto talks 'emotional experience' of welcoming new teammates, saying goodbye to old

GOODYEAR, ;Arizona -- Joey Votto's been in Arizona for a week or so. But he made his official arrival at camp Thursday.

He's been paying attention to what the Reds have been doing. He was asked about the all the new faces. At one point, he interrupted a question to say:

"Then there is the zombie that is Bronson (Arroyo) coming back at 40."

"John, didn't you Tweet that if Bronson hits 84 he make the team?"

Me: "Yeah."

Him: "I have never seen a Tweet like that before."

Me: "I thought you weren't on Twitter?"

Him: "Someone forwarded it me. They thought it was hilarious. That's the caveat: If he hits 84."

Votto, 31, begins his 10th season as a Red. With the trade of Brandon Phillips, Votto is most tenured Red. He's coming off another outstanding year at the plate. He hit .326 with 29 home runs and 97 RBI, despite a horrendous start. He finished seventh in National League MVP vote. He blamed his defensive inconsistencies for that.

Votto sat down with the gathered media Thursday. He was his usual thoughtful, articulate self and didn't give the pat answers most players crank out. Here's the partial transcript:

On all the new players: Wow, it's been a big transition. It seems like a lot of the guys I grew up playing ball with here in Cincinnati are gone. And it's happened slowly. Brandon just getting traded, that's almost like one of the final steps. These guys were a big part of my life. Seeing them play in different uniforms is quite a difference experience for me.

Facing the hard truth of baseball: I enjoyed the time I have with the guys I played with. That's really all I can do. I certainly got attached to the guys who got traded. There's definitely a transition. There's an emotional experience too. You get saddened. You miss the guys. It can be odd sometimes looking around the clubhouse and seeing certain players I used to play with not around. But I'm really excited about the next group. I'm excited to share future winning with them.

On his offseason: Last offseason, I was bordering on getting burned out, so I needed to take some time off. I didn't train anywhere like I normally would. But I felt different this year. I felt excited to get back into working on a consistent basis. I enjoy work. But it was a weird point in my career where I felt like I had been doing the same thing every single year. I just needed a breather, and I didn't feel that this past offseason.

On his slow start: I don't know. There's been years where I've started off really, really well and years were I've started off poorly. It's just one of those things. There are some things I feel like I could have been on top of that were probably impacting my starts. That's experience. I've learned from it. I feel like I'll make that adjustment this year.

Can you diagnose your own problems? I think so. But the game is ever-changing. You always feel different. There are new challenges, new competitions.

Encouraged by the second half: I'd like to see guys find themselves and watching Tucker (Barnhart), watching Eugenio (Suarez), watching (Jose) Peraza, watching some of the younger pitchers, seeing (Zack) Cozart healthy, I think that those are the sort of things -- watching Billy Hamilton improve, (Scott) Schebler and (Adam) Duvall as an All-Star, this is exciting for me to watch all these guys get better and to try to keep up with them and compete with them.

Do you like the prospect of hitting behind Hamilton and Peraza? I don't care. It can be challenging hitting behind guys that run a lot. That can be a challenge but it's not something that's necessarily new to me. Billy is aggressive. There are goods and bads to everything.

On rebuilding: I think if you're honest, I think it's important to have an attitude moving up in the division, in the league. We're rebuilding, I think it's appropriate. I think that guys in the clubhouse would welcome it because they are part of the process. The younger players that are trying to establish themselves, they welcome that word because they are saying to themselves ‘shoot, this is our team. We're the future. We're going to be that team competing for the World Series one day.' That's the attitude I think should be embraced. Sometimes you've got to take a couple of steps back to move forward. I think that's what is happening right now.

On people judging his numbers: I think it's important that there's commentary on that. To play at a high level... I don't mind being checked. Where people hold me, I'm way above that where I perceive myself and my goals and what my objectives are. I haven't felt much of the criticism. I don't really hear it. I don't feel it or hear it. Some of the stuff can be so silly, some of the comments. Then you just categorize them as a group of people that just don't know what they're talking about.

On improving his defense: I'm excited to play with the group of infielders that we have now. I've always felt like that guys I've played with in the past, that I've been able to learn and be challenged and be part of that unit. I feel the same way about this group right now -- athletic guys that are wanting to learn and get better and be on the field on a consistent basis.

Could the Reds be a sleeping giant? I don't know. There are too many variables for me to say. It all depends on, especially some of the players that don't have a track record, how they perform. I don't know but I'm excited to see guys go past their projections and past what people think their capacity is.

On being an MVP candidate: I think you can't be in that conversation if you do one attribute, or just part of one aspect of the game -- save for elite pitchers. I think it's important to have a good balance of all the attributes and be competitive in that.

Smarter media good for you? I probably would have been far more embraced 50-75 years ago to be honest with you because I've had a steady batting average. That would have been a major marker and people would have pointed to that and said ‘oh look how well he's playing.'

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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