LOS ANGELES — There are leaders in the clubhouse and there are leaders in the game, and then there’s Joey Votto.
Votto, who boasts a .301 career average, has worked to be one of the most respected players in baseball. His affinity for making contact at the plate throughout his 16-year career has forced teams to be even more careful when pitching to him.
But it’s Votto’s character, on and off the field, that has made him one of the most beloved people in baseball.
As the Reds and Dodgers tried to find landing zones for their hard hits in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers on Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium, Votto placed his focus on a couple of young fans alongside the first-base side.
Kelvin J. Woods watched as his 9-year-old son Kelvin D. Woods and his 7-year-old son DeAngelo Woods interacted with Votto. Given their youth and loyalties to the Dodgers, Kelvin and DeAngelo weren’t keen on Votto’s resume. All they knew of him was from his TV interview on Opening Day the week prior.
The lack of familiarity didn’t prevent Votto and Woods’ sons from sharing friendly gestures between innings. Though their section slowly filled with other white and blue jerseys in support of the home team, a connection was made between Votto and the Woods family.
Eventually, the distant interactions materialized into an everlasting moment.
“He was talking to us through the fence earlier in the game and then he just kind of said, ‘Hey, do you guys want these shoes?’” Kelvin J. said. “It was kind of surreal, but it was fun. It was a fun moment.”
Before Votto could retrieve the cleats he offered to Kelvin and DeAngelo, their father requested that the Reds first baseman autograph the shoes. Votto happily obliged.
The 38-year-old emerged from the dugout in between innings and handed the Woods boys one shoe each. They were signed with Votto’s friendship as the message, “Happy Jackie Robinson Day!” was written right above it.
The elder Kelvin and his family wanted to drive out to Dodger Stadium for Opening Night, which happened to be the day before Jackie Robinson Day. But his sons both had their respective baseball games to play.
Instead, with their schedules wide open on Friday night, the Woods family took in the festivities surrounding Jackie Robinson Day and made a lifelong memory with a player likely destined for the Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great thing, because my father told me about [Jackie Robinson Day] the whole time that I was growing up,” proud dad Kelvin said. “It’s something that I grew up with. It’s not something that [my sons are] really knowledgeable about, but they know a lot about the history of Black America. I don’t think they understand what Jackie Robinson Day means, but they understand the concept of the whole thing.”
On Friday, as they have every year since April 15, 2009, each player in the Major Leagues wore No. 42, this year in Dodger blue. And all 30 teams celebrated the 75th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in the sport with their own tributes.
Votto’s excitement for the festivities surrounding the 75th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball was evident very early in the day. The Reds longtime first baseman tweeted, “Please somebody steal home today” in reference to Robinson stealing home during Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees.
Though Votto didn’t have the opportunity to steal home against the Dodgers, he made his own lasting impact with some fans in the stands.