The bald head. The sad, distant stare. The way he just stands there and draws a walk, as if he doesn't even care what's happening. Being Canadian. There are many reasons we assumed Joey Votto was a sociopath, and now we know for certain.
It was a beautiful afternoon for baseball, you assured your kids, as you piled them into the car. On the way to the field, maybe you related stories of when your own parents would take you to ball games, and of the Phillies heroes of your childhood: Scott Rolen, Gregg Jefferies, Rico Brogna, Marlon Anderson, Desi Relaford - the whole gang! A few armfuls of concessions later and everybody was in their seats, basking in the oddly autumnal May weather as the Phillies went for a sweep against the Reds.
A few innings in, and it became clear that the Phillies were probably not going to win the game. No matter; baseball, you explain, is more about the family bonding and the ice cream helmets than about winning or losing, and at no time is this lesson more applicable than when you are losing. Your skeptical kids accept this, if only because it hinted that an ice cream helmet was on the way, but then Joey Votto and his menacing stare approached the stands.
Right from the start, you knew something was off. The way Votto stared hungrily into the crowd, looking for human emotions on which to feast was most unsettling. He produced a baseball and held it up for everyone to see, as if you were animals, and he your master. Votto, relishing in the power he wielded, moved the ball around in his hand, working the jubilant crowd into a frenzy. Watching baseball is one thing, but getting to touch the baseball is an experience not even a grown adult will deny themselves, regardless of how stupid or disruptive their actions become.
Your children are just as susceptible to player interaction as anyone, and begin hopping and screaming almost as much as you. Please, Joey, just give us the baseball!
You can't be sure, but Votto may have made direct eye contact with you at exactly that moment and smirked while giving you the finger and also grabbing his crotch. There's just no way to ever know the truth. And then, he turned his back on the throngs of delighted fans and walked away, leaving a gutted silence throughout the entire section.
When in Philly. #savage pic.twitter.com/jmKtK0UexM— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) May 15, 2016
"Daddy, why do bad things happen?" your little daughter asked through a veil of tears. Or maybe she was just giving you another update on the status of her phone battery again, you weren't really listening.
But she definitely said something, and in any case, it's time to take action.
Calm your children down
The lack of remorse for his actions is all any mental health professional would (but did not) use to diagnose Votto as a monster loose in society. But it seems unlikely that MLB will take any actions against Votto, so all you can do is tell your weeping children that you won't rest until the Reds' first baseman is on every terrorist watch list. Try yelling this at them, to really drive the point home about how calm you are.
Explain that bad people are everywhere
Maybe this is a lesson that you should have taught them before now, but hey; just know that everyone else in the section is watching and listening to you, silently judging your handling of your children, so the pressure is on.
"Some people are just rotten inside," you could start. "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
"That's from The Dark Knight," one of them recognizes instantly.
"No it's not," you reply, sweating nervously. "Let me tell you kids a story. When I was in the military, I once saw a little homeless boy playing with a diamond the size of a tangerine--"
"Are we getting ice cream helmets or not?"
You smile, knowing that you've already succeeded in getting their minds off the trauma that had unfolded just moments ago.
Boo Joey Votto lustily
This is actually the most important step. Votto must understand that the crowd is rejecting his barbarism, and that his rude, boorish behavior may be acceptable elsewhere, but not in a sports venue in Philadelphia.
To accomplish this, making an "ooooo" sound with your mouth is the most logical solution. Throwing things on the field is never a good idea - unless of course you see someone else do it first. Then, by all means, take your response up a notch - your kids are worth it. As everyone knows, what mentality is more stable than that of an incensed mob?
Remind your kids that Joey Votto sucks
Not in the grand scheme of things; easily accessible numbers tell us that Votto has remained one of the most effective, consistent ball players the modern version of this sport has ever seen. But over the weekend against the Phillies, Votto failed to collect even a single hit. Sure, he walked a couple of times, but back in the day, they used to call walks "Coward Strolls," and drawing one actually subtracted points from your batting average.
"Dad, I'm on an all-state travel team," your son says. "I know the rules of baseball. Probably better than you. And I know that's just not true, you're making things up again. Maybe you're the sociopath."
You laugh and tussle your son's hair. It's a classic Sunday afternoon for your relationship - you start explaining something, filling in the gaps of your knowledge with charming half-truths, and he shakes his head in disgust. It's a thing you guys have!
Buy them stuff
This is a tall order in a professional sports stadium, as chances are you've already burned through your savings account just getting into the parking lot. But as anyone will tell you, children's love is the most purchasable kind of love with money or gifts. There's nothing like a couple buckets of crab fries to take a kid's mind off being the target of Joey Votto's cruelty or remind them that you are in fact worthy of their respect.
"I don't like crab fries," your daughter reminds you, and now it is your turn to shake your head in disgust.
You begin explaining how Philadelphia's crabmen get up every morning to harvest the river for the crabs that go into these fries, but your son looks up at you from texting "He's doing it again" to his mother long enough to cut you off.
"Hey, let's just enjoy the rest of the game," you suggest, and you can tell by the pair of annoyed sighs that they agree.
Don't let them watch the news
As you suspected, this story's got legs. A professional baseball player taunting and humiliating a bunch of innocent fans was of course going to be picked up, at least by the local outlets, and while you're glad Votto couldn't escape justice, the exposure does mean your children may re-live the event that scarred them over and over.
Reds' Joey Votto had some fun teasing Phils fans at yesterday's game ... and he wasn't done after the game ended.https://t.co/KkUdk0Fu7q— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) May 16, 2016
Squinting closely at the TV while an image of Votto standing in the clubhouse flashes on screen to see how many small animal carcasses are in his locker comes up empty. No matter. Surely, the world will see his heartless, emotionless response and his confirmed hatred for local children and know that you and your kids were the real victims today.
Try your best to move on
At this point, it's in the league's hands, and probably the FBI's. Better leave things to professionals. Some evening in the future over dinner, maybe one of your kids finally breaks down emotionally, the way you have nine or ten times since it happened. It is then you must go to them, providing comfort and support no ice cream helmet is capable of.
They may act like they don't need or want your advice, or that everything is fine because "nothing bad actually happened." But you must see through this curtain they have drawn around themselves for protection. Seeing them doing their homework, playing video games, going to baseball practice, or telling their friends "my dad sucks" on the phone at full volume while in the same room as you are all various cries for help. They won't admit it, but images of a tentacle-armed Joey Votto dangling a free baseball in front of them and then snatching it away, before slithering down a sewer grate will continue to fill their dreams for months.
Lessons like "lashing out is healthy" and "it's okay to feel scared all the time" are key in this situation. But most of all, it's important for them to know that you are here for them. Baseball isn't the lackadaisical slice of Americana it was when you were a lad. These days, the sport is full of unchecked bat-flippers and crowd-taunters who believe their enjoyment of their lives is more critical than you - I mean your kids - receiving a baseball. If you - I mean they - can stomach it, wait a few weeks until taking them to their next game.
Or, introduce them to a new sport over which you can bond. Have you talked to your kids about the exciting world of brand integration?