Doolittle grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Medford, N.J., making his name mostly as a pitcher.
He started playing Tee-ball when he was 4 years old. "I kind of played a little bit of everything—soccer, football, basketball. By the time I got to high school, it was just basketball and baseball," Sean said. "By my senior year, it was just baseball."
In 2004, Doolittle pitched a 5-inning perfect game for Shawnee High School in Tabernacle, New Jersey. He struck out 14 of the 15 batters he faced. He was named New Jersey High School Player of the Year.
That year, Sean signed a letter of intent to accept a baseball scholarship to the University of Virginia. And he chose college rather than turn pro after being drafted by the Braves #39. One big reason he didn't turn pro: most scouts wanted to draft him as a pitcher, not a hitter. And Doolittle went to Virginia because the school promised he could both pitch and hit.
In 2007 at the University of Virginia, Doolittle hit .301 with seven home runs and a team-high 53 RBIs. And he's as the all-time leader in RBIs at Virginia with 167.
He also went 8-3 on the mound with a 2.40 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 82 innings. His 22 victories ranks No. 1 all-time in the Virginia annals.
Doolittle was named a 2007 second-team All-America by rivals.com and a third-team All-America by Louisville Slugger. And during his college career, Sean went 22-7 on the mound at Virginia but also hit .312 with 22 homers in three seasons.
In 2007, Doolittle got signed by the A's (see Transactions below).
Before the 2008 season, Sean gained a lot of power and strength, working out and putting on weight.
In 2008, the A's drafted and signed Sean's brother, Ryan, a righthanded pitcher, in the 26th round out of Cumberland Community College in New Jersey.
Doolittle has great makeup. He has a grind-it-out attitude that helps make him a fine baseball player.
In 2009, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Doolittle as 11th-best prospect in the A's organization. And in the spring of 2010, they moved him up a notch, to #10 in the Oakland farm system.
But in the winter before 2011 spring training, he was down at #17.
Asked if he has any superstitions, Sean said, "I used to be really superstitious, but after I got hurt in the Minors I'm really conscious of not being superstitious. I used to have all kinds of routines, from what I ate to the music I listened to and the stuff I wore under my uniform. Now, I just go out there and play."
In his spare time, Doolittle reads a lot. He also plays a lot of FIFA on Xbox. He says he has a very quiet lifestyle.
His favorite sport to watch, other than baseball? "Football. I'm a big Redskins fan."
Sean has a humorous Twitter account: @whatwouldDOOdo. Example from April 2013: "Bought 4 items at the grocery store. Why does my 9 ft. receipt have coupons, surveys, the SAT (math portion), the Constitution, and a treasure map?"
Doolittle played outfield as a freshman at Virginia and during two summers with Team USA.
August 2013: Can Google Glass help big league pitchers zero in on the strike zone?
Though we may not know the answer anytime soon, Oakland A’s relievers Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle had the distinction of becoming the first Major League Baseball players to score a Google Glass.
The players won’t be wearing Google Glass during games, although Melvin “gave them permission to wear them for pregame activities, like team stretch, batting practice, etc.,” said A’s spokesman Adam Loberstein.
Just imagine, though, if they could wear them on the mound and instantly call up an opposing batter’s weaknesses before a crucial pitch. Or if Yoenis Céspedes could see the Glass flash “slider” as the ball approached the plate.
At the USS Hornet Museum, Sean heard all about then-Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle and his lead role in the first attack against the Japanese home islands after Pearl Harbor, a daylight assault on April 18, 1942.
The Doolittle Raid.
Doolittle the pitcher determined in 2013 that the late Gen. Doolittle is a seventh cousin—and not an uncle far removed as he had long thought. Handwritten on Doolittle’s cleats and under the brim of his cap are his version of a tribute to Jimmy Doolittle and the raid that did so much to boost American morale during World War II.
“The motto on the Doolittle Raiders patch that they wore, it’s French, but it translates into English as ‘Forever Into Danger,’ " Sean said. “It’s pretty cool. Obviously, the type of danger I come into is a little bit different than they had to deal with.”
In 2011, Doolittle had a cast covering his right wrist, the latest in a series of injuries that cost him nearly three years of his professional career.
With his dreams of reaching the Major Leagues as a first baseman slowly fading, Doolittle made sure he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life wondering if he could have reached the big time. So he returned to his roots as a pitcher.
''When you look back and see where he's come from, it's pretty amazing,'' Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin said in 2014 spring training. ''From when I first saw him, I was surprised. The next thing you know, he's closing a game against the Yankees.''
Doolittle began the transition during the summer of 2011 at extended spring training in Phoenix. With the cast making it impossible to put on a glove, he needed someone to catch for him as he began a long process of building his strength and stamina.
''I was on a six-week long toss program before I even got on a mound,'' Doolittle said. ''I'm grateful for the way they brought me along.''
Doolittle credits several people who helped him make the transition, including his brother, Ryan Doolittle, A's director of minor leagues Keith Lippman, and A's pitching instructor Garvin Alston. But he said it started with Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn.
''I did not pitch at all since college,'' Doolittle said. ''When I got back on the mound so much of it came back so fast because he drilled it in.''
Doolittle drew attention as a pitcher and offensive player out of Shawnee High in New Jersey, and there were teams that like him as a pitcher with Virginia. The A's originally drafted him as a hitter in the 2007 amateur draft, making him the 41st overall pick.
''I didn't have a preference,'' Doolittle said. ''I wanted to be good at both.''
He was a top prospect his first 2 1/2 years in the organization. Injuries began robbing Doolittle of time. He underwent a pair of knee operation before seriously injuring his wrist.
He was close to making it as a position player and was set to return to the A's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento before making the switch. Just about the time Bob Melvin was introduced as the A's interim manager, Doolittle rebooted his baseball career as an interim pitcher.
''It is not lost on me on how crazy it is,'' Doolittle said. ''I've seen enough guys in Triple-A who spend their whole careers there and couldn't catch a break. I've been here two years, and we have two division titles. I still take nothing for granted.''
He was asked what kinds of things he likes to do off the field. "I lead a pretty quiet, almost sedentary lifestyle. I play a lot of video games, I read a decent amount of military history, because I'm a history nerd. If I'm at home watching TV, I'll pull a documentary up on Netflix," Sean said.
But he was a not a history major in college, but a psychology major. Asked if he'd ever considered working in the psychology field, he said no.
"Maybe I would have gone into coaching. With my psychology background, I though maybe I could use that to connect to people better and understand their thought processes, so maybe I could have been an effective teacher. I still have one year left, so at some point, I have to go back an actually attend class.
"I got three-quarters of my education from such an awesome school, so I think it'd be really cool to one day hang a diploma on my wall. I want to see it through. I haven't half-assed anything else in my life up to this point, so to say I saw it through and got it done would be really cool," Doolittle said.
Sean Doolittle was born in South Dakota and grew up in New Jersey, spending a handful of years in California in between. But he was raised in a backyard.
That's where the A's hurler and his brother, Ryan, also a pitcher in Oakland's organization, spent the bulk of their youth, dad Rory always watching and often participating in the outside shenanigans.
"Pretty much all of my memories are of us doing stuff outside, whether it was sports," said Sean, "or pretending to be ninja turtles in the backyard."
Rory, retired Air Force, moved his family several times, before settling down in Tabernacle, N.J., after transferring to the Air National Guard. It was there where Sean was enrolled in his third first-grade class.
"Three first-grades in one year," he said, smiling. "That was my normal."
Adapting to change, it seems, came natural for the first baseman-turned-closer. They had spent Sean's birthday that year in a hotel in Needles, Calif., part of a two-week excursion across the country—with three kids under the age of 6—following their move from Atwater, Calif., where Rory had been stationed at Castle Air Force Base.
Cary Young, brother of former A's hurler and current pitching coach Curt Young, was stationed there, too. Curt would leave tickets at the base, though the Doolittle family was already invested in Oakland season tickets.
Long before pitching there, Sean frequented the Coliseum, which was less than a two-hour drive from their temporary home.
Rory, raised in the Baltimore area, tried to raise his boys as Orioles and Redskins fans, but he couldn't be surprised by their taking to the A's and, ultimately, the Phillies, following their move to South Jersey.
Sean recalls throwing a temper tantrum at the Oakland Coliseum when his dad had them leave a game early because the A's were running up the score on the Orioles. Mostly, though, Sean learned to keep his emotions in check when dealing with his father.
"Most of the time," he said, "I'd try to shut my mouth. Things were very strict. We always had to get homework done before practice. If it wasn't done, I couldn't go. In high school, if I had to be home by 10:30 and I got home at 10:31, I was grounded. It sucked, but I think for my development as a person, it played a key part."
An allotted time was meant for TV and video games. But no matter the time of day, the Doolittle brothers knew they were always allowed outside.
Rory, navigating through a typical weekday work schedule, outside of a handful of tours to the Middle East lasting three to six months, was around to coach his boys essentially every year leading up to high school.
"If we weren't watching or playing baseball," said Sean, laughing, "we were watching John Wayne movies. Those were his favorite. He was really good at incorporating life lessons into baseball. You never cut corners, you always leave things better than the way you found them, things like that."
Like when the boys would trek down to the local baseball complex and help Rory, head of the town's Athletic Association, clean up the playing fields.
"He would drag us up there, and we would go and rake the leaves, mow the grass, tidy up the field," said Sean, "and only then could we hit. We'd be cleaning out the batting cages. There were always sticks and leaves tangled in nets and fences, and then we'd hit."
Rory's longest tour came shortly after Sept. 11, when Sean was in high school. He's now teaching ROTC classes in New Jersey, but Sean's stepmother, April, remains active duty Air National Guard and is stationed at McGuire Air Force Base.
"I'm always very proud to say he was in the International Guard, that when he was on deployment, it was something I was proud that what he was doing stood for something," he said. "At the same time, he was still dad." (Jane Lee - mlb.com - 6/12/14)
Sean and his (now, wife) Eireann Dolan knew it wouldn’t be easy apartment-hunting in the Bay Area for a home they’d need only through the baseball season, maybe even the post-season. The added challenge was that it had to be dog-friendly.
In February, they found a spot … sort of. The catch was that the couple was required to write a resume for Stella, their loveable, friendly 5-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback. Nothing too complicated, the landlord assured them. He provided them with a three-page sample resume for dogs and a word of advice. “Think about it a little more in-depth than what you would do for yourself,” Dolan recalled.
That’s when Dolan’s wry sense of humor kicked in. She put together a tongue-in-cheek resume for Stella that hit all the high points, from her pedigree to her educational achievements. Stella’s college: DePaw University, Grades K through 9. Stella confirmed that she worked as a dog during the baseball season and continued her work as a dog in the off-season. She was also listed among Oakland’s Hella Well-Behaved and Quiet Dogs and her skill set included donning a trench coat and climbing atop another dog (not like that!) in order to walk in upright to a bank and apply for loans.
Apparently, Stella’s resume did little to impress management. The couple was denied an apartment. The official reason: their vehicle was five inches taller than the garage stall provided for it. (Chip Johnson - SFGATE - March 30, 2015 )
November 27, 2015: Doolittle and his girlfriend, Eireann Dolan, spent the night before Thanksgiving hosting Syrian refugees for a holiday meal in Chicago.
Along with 17 Syrian refugee families, the party was also attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Edward Burke. Dolan posted photos of the event on her Instagram account, several of which featured attendees holding up handwritten notes thanking the couple for their generosity.
"Chicago is so lucky to have 17 Syrian refugee families now officially calling it home," Dolan wrote on Instagram. "We thought we'd officially welcome them with one of our greatest American traditions, Thanksgiving. Thank you to Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Burke for joining the party!"
That day's dinner was just the latest in a long list of charitable acts performed by Doolittle and Dolan. Earlier this year, Dolan bought an unspecified number of tickets for Oakland's "Pride Night" game on June 17, strictly to donate them to the Bay Area Youth Center's Our Space community for LGBTQ youth.
As if that wasn't enough, she also started a GoFundMe page in an attempt to continue raising money for the event. Together with Doolittle, they pledged to match up to $3,000 in donations, a total that was exceeded shortly after the page was posted. The fundraising attempt ultimately raised a grand total of $38,678. (P Casella - MLB.com - November 27, 2015)
Is Sean Doolittle the most interesting man in baseball? A new Oakland Athletics commercial emphasizes how a pitcher must trust his catcher, and shows how the team has been working toward building that relationship. We see pitchers Sonny Gray and Sean Doolittle each fall backward suddenly while saying "Trust fall!,'' a call that prompts catcher Josh Phegley and then fellow backstop Stephen Vogt to rush over, catch Gray or Doolittle in their arms, and protect them from dropping to the floor.
When A's infielder Mark Canha tries a "trust fall" of his own, however, Vogt simply sits on the bench and watches him smack down on the dugout floor.
"Dude,'' Canha says after picking himself up. "What was that?''
Vogt shrugs. "Sorry, babe," he quips. "Pitchers only.''
It's just one of several clever and amusing commercials the Athletics will air this season. The commercials were conceived and scripted by Doolittle and Vogt, along with Doolittle's girlfriend, comedy writer Eireann Dolan.
"The director said, 'Hey, let's get the three of us together and brainstorm,'' Vogt says. "We had a blast. We had a couple scheming sessions and came up with six or seven ideas for commercials with the pitcher-catcher relationship, and just had a lot of fun with it.''
Doolittle says he really enjoyed the process because he likes doing things that aren't typical. "It gets me out of my bubble a little bit," he says.
His bubble is so expansive -- and Doolittle is so intriguing -- that perhaps the Athletics should film a series of Dos Equis-like commercials starring Doolittle as "The Most Interesting Man in the World ... of Baseball.''
"Sean is a goofball. He's very intelligent. His sense of humor is different. He's probably one of the biggest-hearted people around. He's a giver. He's just one of the best people in baseball, period."
Doolittle gets lots of jokes about Dr. Dolittle, the fictional character who talks to animals. He understands why, but wishes more people would connect him with the World War II Doolittle Raid commanded by a distant relative, General James Doolittle. The military is an important part of Doolittle's life. He is the son of retired Air Force navigator Robert "Rory" Doolittle, who was awarded a bronze star after missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Discipline was a way of life in the Doolittle's New Jersey household. If you started something, it had to be completed, whether that was piano lessons or a football season. "Everything had to be a certain way, the right way,'' Sean says. "In high school, if you were told you had to be home by 9, and if you came home at 9:01, you were grounded. There was no in between.''
Rory coached Sean and younger son Ryan in baseball, but had such a strict regimen that the boys often had to show up early to games to prepare the field as if they were the grounds crew. They would clear it of weeds, leaves and even cut the grass with a push-mower.
"I believed it was important for them,'' Rory says. "That they should have a little skin in the game.'' ( Jim Caple/ESPN Senior Writer/April 5, 2016)
As many do, Doolittle played multiple positions in his youth. As few do, he pitched and played first base in college at the University of Virginia. As even fewer do, he has pitched and played first base and the outfield in pro baseball.
Originally drafted out of high school as a pitcher by Atlanta in 2004, Doolittle was Oakland's first-round pick in 2007 as a first baseman/right fielder. Within two years, he was batting and fielding well enough -- he hit .305 with 18 home runs at Triple-A Stockton in 2008 -- that a callup to the Majors was likely in 2009. And then he tore a tendon in his knee and missed the rest of the 2009 season. When the knee didn't improve, he underwent surgery and missed the entire 2010 season as well.
After working out, playing well and feeling good during extended spring training in 2011, Doolittle was told that he would move to Triple-A in a few days. After missing two years because of injuries, he was as excited to be returning to play as Han Solo was when he rediscovered the Millennium Falcon. And then Doolittle swung and missed at a pitch and suffered a subluxation in his right wrist. He would miss yet another season. You don't always have to fall to get hurt.
"So now I'm sitting there thinking, I just missed 2009, all of 2010 and now I'm going to miss all [of] 2011,'' Doolittle says. "I'm in a cast from my knuckles up to my elbow. I can't bend my arm. It was miserable, itchy, terrible. The first week after that injury, I was mentally a mess.''
Doolittle considered returning to college or searching for another job, but he was determined not to give up on baseball yet. As his parents had taught, you must complete what you start. You should not give in before you navigate every avenue.
Sean is used to shifting baseball roles, though it usually hasn't involved donning an elephant costume. In his case, it was shifting from first base to the pitcher's mound, which he started at the suggestion of minor league director Keith Lippman when his wrist was still injured. While Doolittle's left arm was fine to throw, his right wrist was in no condition to catch. Meanwhile, brother Ryan, a pitcher in the Oakland organization, had recently undergone Tommy John surgery on his left arm. Ryan could catch with his right hand but not throw. So to play catch, the brothers would stand next to each other. Sean would throw the ball to someone, who would throw it back to Ryan, who would catch it, then flip it to his brother. "Combined, we made one healthy pitcher,'' Sean says.
"It was a sight to see,'' Ryan says. "He just wanted to play. He wanted to get back out there. He was tired of rehabbing, tired of sitting in the training room. And we started slowly playing catch and working on the mechanics. He never really said 'Hey, should I do this.' He just kind of decided, 'I'm going to give this a shot.'''
For a while, Doolittle still hoped to return as a first baseman, but his wrist simply wasn't healing enough to swing a bat properly. A doctor told him he could undergo surgery but that it would take eight months for recovery. Worried that could mean missing a fourth season, Doolittle decided to switch completely to pitching.
"There were never moments where I thought, 'This could be my ticket, this is it,'" Doolittle says. "I thought I could compete and I could at least pitch in affiliated baseball again. I could play. I could wear a uniform. I could get out of the trainer's room. That was all I was focused on. I didn't want my career to end in the trainer's room.''
Doolittle worked daily with Alston, who was immediately impressed with his throwing. While Doolittle had averaged around 91-92 miles per hour in college, after working with Alston, he seldom threw under 95. Alston said that Doolittle not only had the speed, his pitches and delivery were incredibly smooth. He also saw his determination.
"When things get rough with Sean, he just goes further and harder,'' Alston says.
"Garvin will never allow me to give him enough credit, but he was with me every step of the way,'' Doolittle says. "He was as much mental therapist as my pitching coach.''
When Doolittle went to spring training in 2012, Melvin said he looked all right, but that "I would never have thought there was any way he would pitch for us that year.'' And yet Doolittle did. He began the season at Class-A Stockton. A couple of weeks later, Oakland promoted him to Double-A Midland. A couple of weeks after that, the A's promoted him to Triple-A Nashville. Six appearances later, they called him up to the majors. By that October, he was pitching in the postseason. By 2014, he was Oakland's closer and an All-Star with a $10.5 million contract.
"Sean's been told he's done with baseball more times than anybody else,'' Dolan says. "When somebody says he's fragile, I say, 'No, he's stronger than anyone I know.' ... He missed three full minor league seasons with injuries and he came back from that. When his wrist finally went, he decided, 'I'll switch to pitching.' Who else would do that? He wants to live a life. He tries every avenue, every option. That is important to him.'' (Jim Caple - ESPN Senior Writer - April 5, 2016)
Doolittle once stuck out 23 batters in a New Jersey state championship win for Shawnee High School.
Dec 23, 2016: A's reliever Sean Doolittle has had no trouble filling his days since the season ended. He and his girlfriend, Eireann, have spent time traveling to see their families and are now prepared to enjoy the Christmas season at their home in Arizona.
MLB.com: Do you have a favorite childhood Christmas memory? Doolittle: I don't have one in particular, but when we were kids, we'd have the tradition where, my brother and I shared a room and my sister's room was right across the hall, so the three of us would get up early and go wake up mom and dad and then sit at the top of the stairs. My parents would set up the video camera, so we'd wait to get the go-ahead, the green light, and sprint down the stairs full speed. We'd peek in at the presents to see if we could see anything that looked weird or distinctive enough to know what it was.
MLB.com: What is your favorite holiday tradition? Doolittle: Probably Christmas movies. My brother and I have kind of continued that. We still get together and watch "Christmas Vacation" or "The Santa Clause" or "Home Alone" and stuff our face with Christmas cookies. Growing up, my mom would make Christmas cookies. And when we were really little, we used to read "The Polar Express" the night before Christmas, and that was a pretty cool tradition, but obviously we've grown out of that.
MLB.com: What's the best gift you've ever received? Doolittle: I think the best present I ever got, the one I was most excited about as a kid, was probably a video game console. Nintendo was probably the first one I got. I forget how old I was, but I remember a couple of the other kids in the neighborhood and friends at school already had it, and I wanted it so bad. The only time I could play it was when I went over to their houses, so I finally got one, and I played Mario Bros. 3 and Blades of Steel until my fingers were blistered and bloody. I didn't move from like five feet in front of the TV the rest of the day.
MLB.com: What's at the top of your list this year? Doolittle: My parents and my family ask me what I want for Christmas, and I don't really have anything to give them. I tell them iTunes gift cards so I can buy music and books so I can read on my iPad. I feel like that's kind of sad and maybe boring, but I'm pretty low maintenance. I don't need a lot.
MLB.com: How would you describe yourself as a gift giver? Doolittle: I feel like I'm pretty good. I feel like I'm pretty perceptive and I pick up on maybe things people might like or could use. I buy good things, the presentation is horrible -- I'm not a great wrapper -- but it's what's inside that counts.
MLB.com: So what's a favorite present you've gifted someone? Doolittle: A couple years ago, I gave my grandparents and my mom a trip out to the Bay Area to come out during the season and watch games. I was able to put them up in a nice hotel in San Francisco. They hadn't been able to come out for a number of different reasons, so it was kind of my way of putting my foot down, but it was also really cool to have them out on my turf out there and show them some of the stuff we had going on out there. It was a cool experience to share that with them, so it was a win-win.
MLB.com: Do you make any New Year's resolutions? Doolittle: I feel like the resolutions I make are more Spring Training resolutions, because that's really the beginning of our new year. I haven't really thought about it yet, but Eireann and I will sit down and talk and write some stuff down, things we want to do, usually during the course the season. Obviously I have goals I want to accomplish on the field, but we have certain things we want to do during and once the season is over. I think it's important to have that balance. (J Lee - MLB.com _ Dec 23, 2016)
Sean was very sad to be leaving Oakland when he was traded by the A's to the Nationals. Fortunately, the Star Wars-loving reliever was going to a first-place team and he would be joining up with an old teammate. An old college teammate, to be more specific - Ryan Zimmerman!
Yes, Doolittle and Zimmerman played on the same University of Virginia squad back in 2005 (along with Brandon Guyer and a few other future big leaguers). The team went 41-20 and 14-4 in the ACC that season. Doolittle, a pitcher and first baseman back then, had 11 homers to Zimmerman's 6 that year. Zim was better in nearly every other offensive category, but still, Doolittle had more dingers than Zimmerman! (Monagan - mlb.com - 7/18/17)
Dec 22, 2017: Doolittle quickly settled in as a fan favorite after he was traded to Washington during the middle of the 2017 season. That was in large part because of his role in helping save a flawed bullpen, but Nationals fans also quickly took to Doolittle's personality and began chanting "Dooooo" during his save situations in the ninth inning.
This is Doolittle's first offseason with the Nats, and it's also the first winter as a married couple for Doolittle and his new wife, Eireann, after the couple eloped on an off-day before the postseason. They have been busy planning a reception in January for their families after the couple skipped out on a large, traditional wedding.
But Doolittle took some time to chat with MLB.com to talk about the holidays and some of his family's plans.
MLB.com: This is your first offseason since you got married. What has that been like, and what are the holiday plans like with you and your wife?
Doolittle: It's been great so far. First time doing Thanksgiving, first time doing Christmas as a married couple, it's pretty special. We've done it before, because we've done it for so long, but it's a little more special now that we're married. We don't really have any big plans for Christmas because we've been planning a traditional wedding ceremony and reception for the middle of January. A lot of our time and energy so far this offseason has gone toward the finishing touches on that. And I think all my family is kind of not really traveling during the holidays so they can travel to Chicago for that so we can celebrate together as a family. In years past, both Eireann and I come from big families so the holidays can get pretty hectic. This year is going to be a lot more low-key, but we're still looking forward to celebrating with everybody in January.
MLB.com: What was Christmas like growing up in the Doolittle household?
Doolittle: It was awesome. My mom, she would go all out with the Christmas decorations around the house and stuff and it was always really special. A lot of family, my family's kind of scattered up and down the East Coast, but everybody would either come to our house or my grandparents' house in Virginia.
MLB.com: Best present you have ever received?
Doolittle: Oh my gosh, best present I ever got—I guess it's good, I guess I got a lot of good presents as a kid that not one really stands out. Nintendo was probably a really big one, the first video game console that we ever got. I would say that, I was fortunate. I did alright.
MLB.com: Any present you've really enjoyed giving?
Doolittle: In 2012, I gave my grandfather my first career save, I got the ball from my first career save. It was against the Yankees in 2012, and his whole life he was a huge Yankees fan. My mom's whole side of the family, they're from North Jersey so they all grew up being Yankees fans. So to get that and give to him, it was kind of cool because growing up when I was a kid, if I hit a home run or had a good game, he would get the ball from the game and write some stuff on it, like the date, score, stuff like that. So for me I got the ball, wrote the score and the date and all that stuff and gave it to him for Christmas. It was pretty cool. Not just because it was my first save, but with it being against the Yankees, it kind of tied it together and it was pretty special.
MLB.com: And did he still have the other balls too?
Doolittle: Oh yeah, because one of my uncles played in college, he was at James Madison University when they went to the College World Series in the early '80s, and there's so much baseball stuff in their house. Stuff from me and my brother when we were growing up and they came to almost every home game when I was at [University of Virginia]. They'd drive over, like an hour and a half, so they came to most of the games. Baseball's in their blood, so it was special to kind of share that with him.
MLB.com: Have you been able to spend much time in D.C.? I know you were looking forward to getting to explore the city a little bit.
Doolittle: Love it. Really cool city. It was cool, we've done a bunch of the museums and stuff, but getting out into the city and going to some different restaurants and parks, taking the dogs to some excursions over the city has been fun. We really like it a lot. (J Collier - MLB.com - Dec 22, 2017)
July 2018: Sean was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
March 25, 2019: Doolittle announced that he was changing from No. 62 to No. 63 this season. He said the number “carries a special significance” for his family and he decided to switch after leaving the Nationals to tend to a family emergency earlier this year. (March 25, 2019- Steve DelVecchio-Larry Brown Sports)
Even when things go wrong, even when he walks off the mound as the opposing team forms a celebratory dogpile, a closer provides value to a team. A traditional closer who can handle the falls from the tightrope and bounce back the next day as if nothing happened brings stability to a bullpen, and keeps the highest heat off his fellow relievers.
“The mental aspect of pitching in that role, that’s what makes it a bit more difficult,” Doolittle said. “There’s no gray area. “I talked to Trevor Hoffman about it, and he said there’s no other job in baseball where there’s a one-to-one ratio of your success to the team success.”
Doolittle had both extremes of the closer experience one weekend in June 2019 in San Diego. Sean was on the mound as the Padres rallied for a walk-off victory one night. The next night, he thwarted a ninth-inning comeback bid, coming in for a one-pitch save. At that point, he had 60 saves in 65 chances in three seasons with the Nationals—a 92 percent conversion rate.
“I’ve pitched in a lot of different roles in my career,” Doolittle said. “One thing that’s helped me since I’ve been over here is that in the first couple weeks after I got traded here, they said, ‘You’re the closer. You’re the guy.’ Knowing that if I had a rough outing, if I did blow a save, I wasn’t going to get taken out of that role. That did wonders for me mentally with my confidence.”
The ninth inning, it seems, is something for the psychologists to study, not the mathematicians. “There’s a different energy in that inning,” Doolittle said. “You can’t simulate it. There’s a lot of adrenaline in the seventh, eighth inning. But, for whatever reason, that ninth inning is a little bit different.
“These teams that want to play matchups and plug in players, it can be tough. So much of this role is not just your stuff, not what pitches you have, but how can you manage that energy. Because it’s different. There’s an adrenaline spike. When the [stuff] hits the fan, can you stay in the moment and navigate that inning, or does it get the best of you?”
Experience helps closers deal with the pressure, but it doesn’t make them immune. That’s why Doolittle welcomed the call from manager Dave Martinez after losing the night previous. The lefty came in with the Nats up 4-1, a runner on first base and Fernando Tatis Jr. pinch-hitting with two outs. One fastball later, Tatis had popped out to right fielder Adam Eaton in foul ground and the game was over.
“To come in for one pitch, one save and be high-fiving on the mound and part of a win, that really puts the other night to bed,” Doolittle said. (O'Neill - mlb.com - 6/9/19)
At the suggestion of Washington's director of mental conditioning, Mark Campbell, Doolittle put lavender oil on the leather laces around the webbing of his glove for the 2019 postseason. It helped the lefty relax on the mound after a rocky regular season, much the way the bullpen as a whole morphed from disaster to asset in 2019, a trend of improvement the club figures will continue in 2020. (Howard Fendrich - Feb. 27, 2020)
Sean’s decision to visit an independent bookstore on every road trip in the 2019 season did not start as any grand plan – he simply needed some books. He reads voraciously, because he has to. It’s become crucial to his relationship with baseball and himself.
For a few years, Doolittle has had the same routine: After a game, whether at home or in his hotel room, he reads for an hour or two before bed. (If he’s at a particularly good point in a book, he’ll carve out more tie the next morning before he heads to the park.)
Sean had looked for a way to get out of his head after he left the ballpark. He tried video games, tried streaming TV shows until he fell asleep. And, finally, he found it: He read science-fiction books.
“Reading is just a way for my brain to focus on something else,” he says. “That’s why I like sci-fi. It’s very much an escape, an alternate reality that has nothing to do with baseball or sports or anything going on.”
His favorite book is one of the first that he read in his foray into sci-fi, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which follows a girl with the gift of “hyper-empathy” through a dystopian society wrecked by climate change. He takes recommendations outside the genre from his wife, Eireann Dolan, a former CSN Bay Area broadcaster who spent most of the last two years getting a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Fordham and frequently accompanies him to bookstores. “She’s way smarter than me,” Doolittle says.
Reading has helped Doolittle put his pitching in context. That – along with his relationship with Dolan, whom he asked out over Twitter in 2012 and married in 2017, and daily sessions with Nats mental skills coordinator Mark Campbell – has helped him feel more secure about his career and more comfortable speaking publicly on issues he cares about. As he got more involved in spotlighting bookstores, he studied statistics on childhood literacy and began volunteering with D.C.’s public libraries.
“I think it makes some of the work that we’ve done more effective when people see that some effort’s going in on the back end,” Doolittle says.
“It was exciting having guys in spring training talking to me about Lords of the Realm," Doolittle says referring to John Helyar’s 1994 work on baseball as a business. “Talking about Lords of the Realm while we’re warming up before team stretch!”
For questions on any other subject, just ask – Doolittle probably has a book on it. (E Baccellieri – SI – Spring 2020)
Doolittle used some of his #382,000.00 World Series winner’s share to buy signed first editions of the memoirs of the MLB players’ union’s first leader, Marvin Miller, and the game’s first free agent, Curt Flood. (He had already read both, but he felt this “was an appropriate way” to spend the money.) (E Baccellieri – SI – Spring 2020)
There’s a shelf in Sean Doolittle’s Chicago home where he displays items that are important to him. Among the collection is a baseball signed by the 2019 World Series champion Nationals team. As a Major League pitcher, that’s to be expected. Near that ball stands a book … and not just any piece of literature. It’s a first-edition copy of his favorite, “Parable of the Sower,” signed by author Octavia E. Butler that he purchased during a road trip in Los Angeles last season.
“I read all the time,” Doolittle said. “I don’t not read.” Devouring books has become part of the ninth-year veteran’s daily life. Digesting the words on a page is just as meaningful to him as striking out batters in a lineup.Growing up, Doolittle pored over the “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Goosebumps” series, by Bill Watterson and R.L. Stine, respectively. He also read Matt Christopher’s books on sports. Doolittle got away from leisurely reading as he focused on baseball during high school and college, then his interest revived during his MLB career.
“Books are my favorite way to kind of unwind and mentally decompress over the course of a season,” he said. “Over the past few years, it’s really become a little bit of a routine where I come home after a game and I’ll read for half an hour, an hour before I go to sleep. I’ve tried a lot different things -- video games, Netflix, whatever. I just think it’s a healthier way to decompress over the course of a long season and give me something else to kind of focus my brain on, my energy on so that I’m not just ruminating about the game, or something like that. It kind of helps me have that balance, so I love it.”
Doolittle estimates he read 20 books in the offseason -- keep in mind, the Nationals played until the end of October -- and another eight in the first four weeks of Spring Training. He explored some nonfiction titles this winter, but his go-to genres are science-fiction and fantasy, to be exact.
“Fiction’s still my favorite. I like getting weird with it,” Doolittle said. “I like books that are about -- it sounds so corny to say -- but ghosts and magic and kind of like in the vein of ‘Game of Thrones.’ A little bit of stuff like that where it’s fantastical, wizardry, magic.”
Just as baseball has taken Doolittle all over the country, it has also expanded his book collection. He maximizes his time on the road by scoping out independent bookstores for his next selections. “For whatever reason,” Doolittle said, he buys the books in fours. Before he scans the aisles, he searches the website Goodreads to narrow down one or two titles. He’ll look specifically for those, and then see what else grabs his attention. Sometimes, he scoops up so many books on the road, he has to mail them home separately because they’re too heavy to bring on the team plane.
“I will totally judge a book by its cover,” Doolittle said. “If I think it looks cool, I’ll buy it. I have one waiting for me at home that I bought just because the cover was so sick. It was a fantasy book -- it’s called ‘Mazes of Power’ by Juliette Wade. It came out right before Spring Training.”
During his travels, Doolittle posted photos of books and bookstores to his social media. In doing so, he became part of an online community of fellow readers. He calls it “Book Twitter,” and describes it as supportive, inclusive and fun. With over 141,000 Twitter followers, his posts caught on. This year, the American Booksellers Association named him the 2020 Indie Bookstore Day Ambassador to commemorate the April 25th holiday. Doolittle beamed as he talked about the honor.
“I’ve had so much fun sharing books and reading with fans,” he said. “I didn’t really think it was going to turn into anything, but it ended up being something people really responded to. I just think it’s cool because they’ve had some really cool ambassadors in the past, like Neil Gaiman and Tayari Jones -- like really, really good writers that have had this before, so I’m really excited to carry the torch.”
Doolittle keeps his reading separate from work. He notes that he doesn’t read in the clubhouse, but he will before and after going to the park. And when it’s the offseason, there’s no shortage of reading material in his home. Doolittle and his wife, Eireann Dolan, organized them in Dolan’s office (her books and a shelf of Doolittle’s sci-fi books), in a guest room (Doolittle’s favorites and rare books) and in a bookcase in the front room with their shared nonfiction books.
“I joke, I say it’s our greatest hits collection so that when people come over, they see how refined we are,” Doolittle said with a laugh.
Among all those shelves rests that autographed edition of “Parable of the Sower,” one of the few titles Doolittle has read more than once. The book was signed to a “Susan,” and now Doolittle has embraced the copy as his own, all part of his spreading and receiving the joy of reading.
“It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m not at the field,” he said. “And I just enjoy sharing it with people.” (Jessica Camerato - Mar. 23, 2020)
April 28, 2020: The Washington Nationals will have to wait to defend their 2019 World Series title with Major League Baseball on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
April 30, 2020 will mark the seven-week anniversary of MLB pulling the plug on spring training because of COVID-19.
But at least one person wants to know why it took so long for MLB to make that decision.
Her name is Eireann Dolan. Her husband is Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, whose New Jersey roots run deep as a graduate of Shawnee High School (Medford, N.J.).
In a segment airing April 8 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” correspondent David Scott explores the role sports leagues and organizations domestically and overseas had in the spread of COVID-19 in the crucial days and weeks when the virus took root and became a pandemic. Scott talked to Dolan, in part because she has a chronic lung condition, making her more susceptible to the coronavirus.
“So every day I’m holding my breath and wondering, ‘Who is he going near, what fans, what staff, what players?’ And I thought, ‘If one person gets it, God forbid, we will have it within a week. All of us.’”
On March 12, the day after the NBA suspended play following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for the coronavirus, Dolan put MLB on blast via social media and begged fans to skip going to spring training baseball games.
“I opened by saying I’m probably not supposed to say this,” Dolan recounted to Scott. “My fear in saying it was, ‘I am undermining my husband’s employer.’ So yeah, it felt very risky to say that. But I had had it with waiting.” (Mike Rosenstein)
Sean is perhaps the biggest Star Wars fan you'll ever come across. Not only was he given his own Obi-Wan Kenobi bobblehead (that he had a creative say on, by the way) but he also set a record as the first player to ever celebrate a Championship Series victory with a lightsaber.*
*Note: This has not been confirmed by Elias Sports, or any reputable record-keeping company. We're just kind of assuming it. (Clair - mlb.com - 5/17/2020)
Sean's wife, Eireann Dolan, has a chronic lung condition. Doolittle had to weigh all the factors that could affect her health when deciding whether to play in the 2020 season. They came up with a plan for Doolittle to report for workouts -- for as long as he feels comfortable doing so.
“My wife’s been public about her health,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think that should be a requirement for people to disclose as they’re continuing to try to make these decisions for what’s best for them and their family. That was something she chose to do, to shine a light on what a lot of players are struggling with right now. What it came down to for us was, we were able to find a way where I think she’s going to be able to stay with some family that’s in the area, just so she’s close. …
“From that standpoint, we’re feeling a little bit better about it. But I don’t know. So far -- and we’re only three days into this -- our medical staff has been doing an incredible job, and I think it’s running as smoothly as it can at this point. But like a lot of players, the opt-out provisions are not great. Like they’re not great. There’s a lot of players right now that are trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100 percent comfortable with where things are at right now. That’s kind of where I am.
“I think I'm planning on playing. But if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health with all these things we have to worry about, and just of this kind of this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I'll opt out. But for now, I've prepared for the last three months like I'm going to play. I feel ready to go.” (Camerato - mlb.com - 7/5/2020)
As the son of retired Air Force navigator and bronze star recipient Robert "Rory" Doolittle and seventh cousin of General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, an aviation pioneer who led The Doolittle Raid during World War II, veterans affairs are one of the causes with which Sean is involved. His outreach in the Washington area has included ongoing visits to Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
In working with marginalized populations, Doolittle has supported the LGBTQ community by donating $12,000 to Nationals Night OUT, and he was the recipient of the Team DC Community Service Award, which honors local sports leaders for their advocacy. He has held workshops at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy as part of MLB’s Shred Hate bullying-prevention program, and he participated in the UN Refugee Agency's gameday experience.
“We know what he does as a player, but as a human being, he’s one of the best I’ve ever met,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He cares about everybody and everything, and he’s very vocal. I’m proud of him and his wife [Eireann Dolan] for what they do for our community. He’s an unbelievable humanitarian.” (Camerato - mlb.com - 9/8/2020)
June 2007: Sean signed with Oakland A's scout Neil Avent, receiving a bonus of $742,500. He was drafted in the first round of the secondary phase, out of the University of Virginia.
April 18, 2014: Doolittle and the A’s agreed to a five-year contract that runs through at least 2018, with team options for 2019 and 2020. The entire value is worth between $10.5 and $13.7 million.
His 2020 option becomes mutual if he has a combined 100 games finished between 2018 and 2019.
He received a $150,000 signing bonus. And will get salaries of $600,000 in 2014, $750,000 in 2015, $1.5 million in 2016, $2.6 million in 2017, and $4.3 million in 2018. The A's have a $6 million club option for 2019 (with a $500,000 buyout). And if the option is exercised, they would have a $6.5 million club option for 2020 (again with a $500,000 buyout).
If Doolittle is eligible for arbitration after this season, his salaries would increase to $1.4 million in 2015, $2.4 million in 2016, $3.6 million in 2017 and $5 million in 2018.
- July 16, 2017: The Athletics traded RHP Ryan Madson and LHP Sean Doolittle to the Nationals for RHP Blake Treinen, LHP Jesus Luzardo, and 3B Sheldon Neuse.
|Home:||N/A||Team:||NATIONALS - IL|
|Birth City:||Rapid City, SD|
|Draft:||A's #1 (sec.) - 2007 - Out of Univ. of Virginia|
In May 2011, Doolittle was moved from first base to the mound. Keith Lieppman, the A's director of player development, came up with an idea.
"He suggested I start long-tossing, more or less as something to do aside from more exercises in the weight room," Sean recalled. "It was just to mix it up a little bit to keep me sane."
That throwing regimen revealed another possible career path for Doolittle: Pitching!
Doolittle has an impressive 92-97 mph FASTBALL. Because of his steep downward angle, he is exceptionally hard to pick up in the batter's box. He has a 84-87 mph SPLITTER. And early in 2014 spring training, Sean revealed an 80-83 mph swing-and-miss SLIDER he rediscovered while throwing a bullpen session at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, late in January 2014. It is not a power slider, but has depth and slides at the very end.
Sean had been a one-pitch reliever, using heat virtually all the time. Adding another pitch couldn't have come at a better time, since he's now been in the league long enough to watch opponents make adjustments against him.
"You have to counter that some way," Doolittle said. "It's been no secret that I'm attacking with my fastball. I feel like I can still be effective with it by the way that I can move it around, but at some point you're going to leave one out over the plate and it's going to catch up with you. To have something to put in the back of their minds, and not just something that can keep them off balance but can really be effective, could mean a lot for me.
"Rather than have a guy foul off six fastballs, I can go to the slider or changeup and have shorter innings and stay fresher longer in the season. I'm becoming more of a complete pitcher instead of just a thrower."
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 88.8% of the time; Change 1.1%; Slider 6.7% of the time; and Split 3.4% of the time.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 87.6% of the time; Slider 5.3% of the time; and Split 7% of the time.
2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 88.9% of the time; Change 7%; and Slider 4.1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 94.4 mph, Change 85.7, and Slider 82.1 mph.
- 2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 87.7% of the time; Change 6.2%; and Slider 6.2% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.8 mph, Change 84, and Slider 81.2 mph.
Sean has taken advantage of his experience as a professional hitter to hone in on the most important parts of pitching and disregard the rest.
"I don't know how many pitchers realize how hard hitting is," Doolittle says. "I think some pitchers get themselves into trouble when they try to be too fine and put too much pressure on themselves."
So Doolittle says he doesn't try to be perfect. Being a pretty good former hitter also helps Sean see things other pitchers might miss, such as how a hitter fouling off a pitch can reveal a hole in the swing, or how a hitter's reaction when he takes a pitch can reveal how well he sees the ball to the plate. (Chris Gigley-May 2013)
Improvements in 2014: Mastering his new slider has consumed Doolittle's days since he rediscovered it while throwing a bullpen session at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, just a few weeks before 2014 spring training. On hand for an annual baseball banquet, Doolittle threw in front of pitching coach Karl Kuhn, who wondered why his former student wasn't utilizing a slider anymore. After all, it was one of his best pitches in college, before he became an everyday first baseman in the minors . . . and made the switch back to the mound in 2011.
2018 Improvements: Sean is taking advantage of role security to expand his pitching arsenal. During the early weeks of spring, Doolittle, with the help of new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, is experiencing encouraging results from the slider he’s been cultivating.
“It’s sill in the research and development phase, but I’m excited about it,” Doolittle said. “I’ve had some really good days working with Lilliquist on it.”
May 28, 2019: Sean spent a few days pouring over video of himself, searching for any solution to work his way out of his brief rut. When scouring the video from the beginning of 2018, Doolittle noticed some subtle differences in his delivery he wanted to get back to. He altered his hand positioning and remained taller on the mound, which helps improve his deception. He even ditched the toe-tap in his delivery—the same one that caused controversy a few weeks ago when Cubs manager Joe Maddon called attention to it.
The adjustments helped Doolittle get closer to where he was in 2018. That season, he had some of the highest spin rates and the best extension of his career, and he stayed at a good pace on the mound.
“It’s easier to repeat your mechanics, whatever they are, if you have good rhythm, if you have that good tempo,” Doolittle said. “At times earlier this year in some of those rough ones, I was getting so slow that I was almost starting and stopping and then I had to start again. And when you do that you have to recruit energy from somewhere. It can be tough to maintain good mechanics if you're not really, really disciplined.
“I think it was a really good step in the right direction. It’s obviously an ongoing process for the rest of the season, but it's definitely something I can build from.”
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Sean has a career record of 23-21 with 3.02 ERA, having allowed 38 home runs and 295 hits in 388 innings and 457 strike outs. Sean has 111 saves in 133 save opportunities (83.4%).
- August 24-Sept. 12, 2014: Doolittle was on the D.L. with a strained right intercostal.
January 23, 2015: It was revealed the Sean was not likely to be ready for the start of the 2015 season because of a slight tear to the rotator cuff in his left shoulder along with considerable inflammation and irritation in the area.
Doolittle had a platelet-rich plasma injection Jan. 16 in an attempt to decrease the inflammation and irritation before he begins rehabilitation under the direction of athletic trainer Nick Paparesta. No timetable was set for his return.
In December 2014, Sean started experiencing soreness while beginning his regular offseason throwing program. When the discomfort remained through a few throwing sessions, the A's sent Doolittle to their orthopedist in Arizona, Dr. Doug Freedberg. Doolittle had an MRI and, after consultation with Dr. Will Workman in Oakland, they diagnosed the rotator cuff tear and other issues. Then the pitcher had the PRP shot.
"Neither doctor in this case believes surgery is warranted," A's asst. GM David Forst said. "Both of them, and Nick, believe Sean pitched with this for some amount of time last season, and all are confident he can do so again once the inflammation is gone and his strength returns."
March 26, 2015: Doolittle was activated from the D.L.
May 3-July 20, 2015: Doolittle was back on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder, just four days after his. The southpaw made just one appearance before suffering yet another setback with his shoulder, described by Doolittle as a "stabbing pain" that's in a different place.
The MRI showed no structural damage to the subscapularis muscle, only inflammation, but Doolittle won't pick up a baseball for several weeks. When he does, he'll have to go through the motions of another throwing program.
He ended up being sidelined until August 22, 2015, pitching in only 12 games at the tail end of the season.
June 26-Sept 2, 2016: Sean was on the DL with a strained left shoulder.
May 3-June 10, 2017: Sean was on the DL with left shoulder strain.
July 7, 2018: Sean was on the DL with left big toe inflammation.
July 22-Sept 7, 2018: Sean was on the disabled list for several weeks with a stress reaction in his left foot.
Aug 18-Sept 1, 2019: Sean was on the IL with tight knee tendonitis.
- Aug 13-26, 2020: Sean was on the IL with right knee fatigue.
- Sept 11, 2020: Sean was on the IL with right oblique strain.