1 of 5 | Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto started using social media much more this year, but still carefully curates his posts. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto says a feeling of being "isolated" and desire to correct fans' false belief that he had a serious, boring personality led to the surge in his using TikTok and other social media platforms.
"So far this year, I've made that attempt," Votto said Monday at loanDepot park in Miami. "This is very much of a leap for me. I usually don't put myself out there."
At 38, Votto is the Reds' oldest player, yet his star shines brightest on a TikTok platform driven by users under age 19. Votto joined the Reds in the 2002 MLB Draft, years before TikTok and predecessors Facebook, Instagram and Twitter existed.
Votto's TikTok posts typically gain the most interactions. They draw an average audience of more than 1.2 million people. Votto pairs trendy dancing moves, viral songs and even dental appointment footage with weird expressions, jokes and costumes.
The Reds, who have one of MLB's worst records at 41-61 as of Tuesday morning, are 5-0 this season in games after Votto posts to TikTok.
"The guy is just finally letting it out and showing his true self," Reds second baseman Jonathan India said. "Not many people see that side of him. He is so serious on the field."
Votto says baseball's solitary nature is what initially drew him to the sport. The self-proclaimed introvert "learned to love" the game by throwing a baseball against a wall.
He further buried himself in baseball with a ravenous desire to become a great hitter. That hunger led Votto to devour The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams many times. He often rereads the baseball book by his "icon" in times of self-doubt about his ability.
Fans watched Votto use his intense work ethic to become one of baseball's best hitters. Along the way, he said, they also started to assume his personality matched his robotic movements and methodical preparation.
"At times, I felt a little isolated," Votto said. "The fans look your way and tell you who you are at times. I'd like to have some part in that conversation."
The 16-year veteran said he avoided the social outlets earlier in his career so he could "conserve energy" for the baseball diamond. He also didn't want to be distracted.
The six-time All-Star and 2010 National League MVP at first doubted a potential balance between stellar play and an active social media persona. He says his confidence is higher now and realizes he was "burnt out" earlier in his career due to his self-imposed expectations, which led to "no social life".
"I'm worried about [social media] being a distraction, so I pace myself," Votto said. "But I also have a side of me that likes to have fun and be silly."
Reds manager David Bell wasn't heading the team when Votto made his MLB debut in 2007, but he watched the veteran first baseman grow as a player and person over the past four seasons.
The Reds hired Bell in 2019, a year after Votto made his last All-Star appearance. Votto logged one of his worst seasons that year, which led to a benching. Those struggles continued in 2020.
Votto then changed his swing, focusing more on power than just getting on base, and hit 36 homers in 2021, his most since 2017.
Those changes to his plate approach, paired with his newfound digital bridge to fans, led the Toronto native to find even more joy in his favorite game.
"He is just in a great place," Bell said of Votto. "I've enjoyed all my time with him and our interactions around the clubhouse.
"He just seems to be in a really great place personally."
Like his hitting, Votto remains meticulous in his approach to posting new content. He said he only spends "minutes per week" on Instagram and keeps his tweeting brief due to "stress" he feels from that platform.
He said he tries to avoid losing time from his days by not scrolling his endless TikTok feed. He favors making content, reading comments and replying to some fans so he can boost his connection.
While admittedly less "G-rated" behind the scenes, Votto prioritizes "light" and non-offensive posts for his followers.
He consults with the Reds' communications staff, teammates and others before he hits publish. He even enlisted opposing Atlanta Braves players to make a dancing cameo earlier this year.
"I have a little bit more edge, but I have to sleep at night," Votto said. "I can't watch some grandmother, grandfather or some 5-year-old watching my videos [if they had] gunshot sounds and cuss words.
"I don't want somebody to be turned off or feel less than because of my posts. ... I want to bring joy to people and most importantly, I want to be authentic."
That authenticity has spread to Votto's younger teammates, including second baseman India. The 25-year-old, who won 2021 Rookie of the Year honors, considers Votto a mentor.
"He's not just the serious, hard-working baseball player everyone thinks he is," India said.
"He lives life and has a life other than baseball. ... But he still wants to win every day, no matter what. That's what teams need and what Cincinnati needs, a guy like that.
"He has rubbed off on me so much that I'm going to carry that feeling on with what he brings to this team."