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Joey Votto explains the story behind his Players Weekend uniform name, “Tokki 2”

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Major League Baseball released the personalized jerseys for the inaugural Players Weekend, scheduled for this upcoming weekend. Craig highlighted some of the more interesting choices, like Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager‘s “Corey’s Brother.”

One that flew under the radar was Reds first baseman Joey Votto‘s “Tokki 2.” It actually has a really cool story behind it, which Votto explained on Wednesday. It involves outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who was Votto’s teammate on the Reds in 2013. Via MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon:

“He was performing really well to the point that I kept telling him all the time, ‘I’m trying to keep up with you, I’m trying to catch you. How can I catch you? How can I beat you on the season?'” Votto explained. “About halfway through the year, I said, ‘Have you ever been to a dog track?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ I said, ‘You know those rabbits in the middle that spin around the center of the dog track that dogs chase but can never catch?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ I said, ‘That’s how I feel about you. No matter how much I chase, I can’t catch you.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a tokki.'”

“Tokki” is the Korean word for rabbit.

“Every day, we would say what’s up to each other, and we’d call each other Tokki,” Votto added. “Maybe three-quarters into the year and by the end of it, he said, ‘You’re my tokki.’ He was basically saying, ‘I’m trying to catch up with you now.’ By the end, he was Tokki 1 and I was Tokki 2. It’s just kind of a full-circle thing that we both put the word rabbit on the back of our jerseys. I thought it was kind of cool that we got to use a Korean word and got to share something with a former teammate. It’s an inside joke between the two of us that we get to share with everybody else now.”

What strikes me about this story is how Votto adopted some of Choo’s culture, in this case his language. When foreigners come over to the U.S., they’re expected to assimilate, forgoing so many things that have made them who they are, like mannerisms, language, habits, lifestyle choices, etc. People from the U.S. very rarely go the other way. Votto did and it resulted in a great friendship with a teammate.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.