On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
It’s spring. Opening Day has come and gone, and as Washington Nationals fans are all too well aware: there’s no baseball!
This was supposed to be a celebratory season for the Nats, who won the World Series last year. But we have to wait awhile longer to eat ice cream in the stands, cheer on the giant-headed, racing presidents and watch Sean Doolittle pitch.
It’s a bummer for anyone who loves baseball, including the players. Doolittle misses throwing fastballs. He misses his teammates. He misses the fans. We find out how he’s been making the best of the situation, and some things about him you might not know. And kids can call, tweet or email us their questions for him.
This is the first in the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Sean Doolittle Pitcher; Washington Nationals; @Nationals
KOJO NNAMDIWell, we haven't heard that song in a while. It was five months ago when we celebrated the "Baby Shark," as the Washington Nationals won their very first World Series Championship. Last Thursday was supposed to be the home opener for the Nats, but, as we all know, the coronavirus has changed almost everything in our lives. One other thing that's changed, besides closing down baseball, is that kids are home when this show comes on the air.
KOJO NNAMDISo, we thought it would be fund to produce shows just for younger listeners. This is the very first in a series of “Kojo For Kids” shows. And the very first guest in our lineup is Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle. Sean Doolittle, thank you so much for joining us.
SEAN DOOLITTLEHey, thanks for having me.
NNAMDISean, a lot of people just can't believe that opening day has come, gone, there's no baseball. How are you dealing with that, and how are you spending your time, when we're supposed to be keeping our distance from others?
DOOLITTLEWe're trying to make the most of it. It's a tough situation. My wife and I stayed down in Florida, near the spring training facility that the Nationals have in West Palm Beach, Florida. And I'm working out at home every day, just trying to do a little something to stay ready, something to stay busy, as well. We've been reading a lot and taking the dogs for a couple of walks a day. And, you know, we're just trying to make the most of it.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that your wife Erin has sharpened up her barbering skills. (laugh)
DOOLITTLE(laugh) Yes. Actually, that reminds me, I'm actually due for another haircut. But, you know, to abide by the quarantine and the stay-at-home orders, my wife gave me a haircut, I guess it was about a week-and-a-half ago, at this point. And she did really good, so I will have to get in the chair again and let her work her magic.
NNAMDII've been trying to persuade my wife to do the same. No luck yet. (laugh) But I hear you like to read. Are you doing more of that these days? And, if so, what kind of books are you reading?
DOOLITTLEYeah, I love to read. It's my favorite thing to do when I'm not at the field, playing baseball. For me, it's been something that kind of helps me focus on something other than baseball, so that I don't get too consumed by it, and just kind of escape for a little bit. And my favorite thing to read, my favorite kind of books to read are fantasy books, fiction books about ghosts and wizards and magic, and stuff like “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones,” stuff like that.
DOOLITTLESo, I have been reading quite a bit here recently. And, let's see, I recently finished a book called "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wicker, which was absolutely incredible. And I just finished "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" by one of my favorite authors, V.E. Schwab. And it's been good. It's been a great way to pass some of the time.
NNAMDII was fascinated to learn that you got turned onto sci-fi by the late Octavia Butler, who was one of my favorite writers, and I had the opportunity of interviewing her many years ago before she passed. But, yes, Octavia Butler is the truth, indeed. All right. Well, since we're talking about books, let's go to Natalie and Genevieve in Washington, D.C. Hi, Natalie, hi, Genevieve. You're on the air.
GENEVIEVEHi, Mr. Doolittle.
NATALIEHi, Mr. Doolittle.
NNAMDIWhat do you want to ask him?
NATALIEDo you like Harry Potter?
DOOLITTLEYou know what? I have never seen any of the movies or read any of the books. But my wife got me the book set for Christmas this year, and I accidentally forgot to pack it when we went down to spring training. So, I haven't started it yet. Do you like it? Do you think I should start reading it?
NNAMDINatalie and Genevieve, you both speak with one voice. Are you twins?
NATALIEWe think you're (unintelligible) because you have red hair and (unintelligible) has flaming red hair, is what they described in the books. And if so which (word?) would you be, Bill? And Harry actually admits that he's cool. And Charlie who works with dragons in Romania. And Percy, who's (unintelligible).
GENEVIEVEFred and George, the jokester twins who don't mind blowing anything up.
NNAMDIAnd you thought closing baseball games was hard.
DOOLITTLEThat's a good question. Well, without having read the books or seen the movies and just going off of your descriptions, the one that works with dragons sounds really cool. Is that a good pick?
NNAMDIOkay, cool. Natalie and Genevieve, nine and seven years old, thank you so much.
DOOLITTLEThank you so much, guys.
NNAMDIWe move on now to Nick, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Nick, your turn.
NICKHi. My question is, why did Sean choose number 63?
NNAMDIWhy did you choose the number 63?
DOOLITTLESo, a couple years ago -- actually, last year was the first year that I changed my number from -- I changed it from 62 to 63. I did it to honor my grandparents. My grandparents had been married for 63 years. And my grandmother, unfortunately, passed away during spring training. And it was a way for me to honor them and all of the support that they had given me throughout my baseball career. They watched me grow up playing baseball, and they were always so supportive. It was a way for me to honor them, to say thank you, and to keep them with me while I was on the field.
NNAMDIWow, great story. Here now is Christopher in Bethesda, Maryland. Christopher, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTOPHERI think you're a great pitcher.
DOOLITTLEThank you. (laugh)
CHRISTOPHERI'm 10 years old, and I pitch for my baseball team. And I'm wondering what you did to practice making you a better pitcher when you were 10.
NNAMDIWell, his father and his brother had something to do with that, but go ahead, Sean. (laugh)
DOOLITTLE(laugh) I think the most important thing for me when I was younger and I was playing was just to -- it's going to sound so silly, but just to enjoy it and just to have fun with it, and continue looking for ways to have fun playing the game. So, even if I wasn't at baseball practice or a baseball game, I was probably in the backyard. We had one of those pitch-back nets where you would throw it into it, and it would throw it back to -- it would bounce it back to you.
DOOLITTLEI had like a -- and I would go down in the basement and throw the ball against the wall and practice fielding ground balls. I was playing wiffle ball outside with my friends. I was always -- I was a really active kid, and I just think that staying active and continuing to work out and constantly experimenting and trying new things, I think that was probably one of the most important things for my development.
NNAMDIChristopher, thank you so much for your call. Sean, how are you trying to stay in shape right now? How about your pitching? Are you practicing pitching?
DOOLITTLE(laugh) So, I'm actually kind of going back to those days that I was just kind of talking about. I have a net in the yard, and I'm able to do some arm exercises and some throwing into that net. I was able to get a bunch of equipment, nothing too fancy, some medicine balls and some stretch bands and stuff like that. I took it home from the facility the day the season got delayed. And I've been able to piece together some home workouts and kind of improvise some stuff around the house. So, I've had to get creative, but it's been good.
NNAMDIAll right. On to Slater in Bend, Oregon. Slater, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SLATERHey, Sean. Hey, Kojo. I have a two-part question. The first part is, in a game, maybe you're down by one run, up by one run, there's guys on base and you're on the mound, it's not a smooth day. What's your mindset? And then the second part is, I know you, Sean, have more progressive leaning politics, as do I. How do you get along with teammates that have more conservative politics?
NNAMDIGood questions. Go ahead, Sean.
DOOLITTLEOkay. So, the first one, you know, it's not always smooth sailing when you're out there on the mound. And there are those days where you might have pitched a bunch frequently in the days previous, and your arm might be tired and your stuff might not be as good. And, you know, next thing you know, there's runners on base, and the game is on the line.
DOOLITTLEAnd that part of pitching is so much more mental than physical. It's something that I've struggled with, at times, over the course of my career. And it's something that I've really started to work on, the mental aspect of things, especially over the last couple of years. And I found that if I can frame the situation in a little bit more of a positive way of thinking, I have a better chance of executing my pitches and getting out of it.
DOOLITTLEI think human nature is that when things start getting tough, you want to go faster and you want to get out of that situation as fast as you can. So, you stop thinking as much about what you're trying to do, and everything speeds up. And that's when mistakes start to happen.
DOOLITTLESo, if I can slow it down and I can think, all right, you know, how cool would it be if I could get out of this right now and give my team some momentum and get the guys in the dugout really fired up, how cool would that be? And then you kind of work backwards from there, and you think, all right, well, what do I have to do to make that happen? All right. I got to execute this pitch and then this pitch. And, you know, things start to come into focus a little bit more.
NNAMDISecond part of the question was that you're identified as being progressive. How do you get along with your more conservative teammates?
DOOLITTLESo, I found that, in baseball, you know, this season this was my ninth season in the big leagues, and I was drafted in 2007. So, I've been in professional baseball for a really long time. And you meet so many interesting people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world, who speak different languages. Baseball actually has quite a bit of diversity, and I found that, in my experience, it's been that players, even if they disagree with me, there's kind of a respect there that this is who I am. And they don't see me trying to be opportunistic or take advantage of certain situations to spread my beliefs or my message.
DOOLITTLEI think I'm a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. So, just by being myself on a day-to-day basis and involving myself in the community in the way that I do, the way that my wife and I do, I think they know that this is who I am. And I'm still -- I try really hard to be a good teammate, to be a good listener, to engage those guys. But, at the end of the day, you know, as adults that are -- you know, we're working towards a common goal, right. We're trying to win the World Series, and we're on the same team. That stuff really don't come up that much, and we don't let it really get in the way.
NNAMDIWell, you mentioned how long you've been around. We hope that you're not anywhere near retirement, (laugh) but do you ever think of what you might do later in life?
DOOLITTLETo be honest, I don't. (laugh) And, actually, that's not entirely true. I do think about it a lot, but I have no idea what I would want to do. I have always said that I would want to take a year off and go back to college and finish college. I didn't graduate from the University of Virginia. I have one more year of college left. I was studying psychology, and it's always something that's fascinated me. And it's just one thing that I never finished. To me, it feels like a loose end.
DOOLITTLEAnd I've watched my wife collect a couple Master's Degrees, and education was always a really important part of my upbringing. I was never allowed to go to a game or practice without finishing my homework. And to be able to have a degree from a really good school like University of Virginia would mean a lot to me. So, I always said that I would go back to school and hopefully graduate. And hopefully, in that time, I could figure out a plan of what life after baseball might look like.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Yonatahn, who turn eight tomorrow, who says: you're one of my favorite players. And thank you so, so much for pitching so well and being the champions. Keep on playing well in 2020, if there are games. (laugh) Here now is John Robert, seven years old in Washington, D.C. John Robert, you're on the air.
JOHN ROBERTWhat was your favorite player when you were young?
DOOLITTLEMy favorite player when I was young was -- it was probably a tie between Cal Ripken, Jr, and Ken Griffey, Jr. My dad grew up -- he was from the Annapolis area in Maryland, so he tried to make us Orioles fans. (laugh) And even though that didn't stick, Cal Ripken was definitely one of our favorite players.
DOOLITTLEAnd even though I'm left-handed, I still wore number eight, and I played short stop. And I think every kid my age really liked Ken Griffey, Jr. just because of how cool he was. You know, he would wear his hat backwards, and he had a really cool batting stance, and he hit lots of homeruns. So, both of those guys were two of my favorite players, and we would always pretend to be those guys when we were playing wiffle ball in the backyard.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, John Robert. Here's Julia, age nine, Kensington, Maryland. Hi, Julia.
NNAMDIWhat's your question?
JULIAHow old were you when you started playing?
DOOLITTLEI think I started playing baseball when I was four. I think I was on a T-ball team when I was four years old. We were living in California at the time, so my team was the Angels. I was on the Angels, and I've been playing baseball ever since. But I've also played -- I also played a lot of other sports growing up, too. I played soccer and football and basketball. So, I was really active.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you went to three different schools for first grade. (laugh) Why so many?
DOOLITTLEYeah. So, my dad was in the Air Force. And when you're active duty Air Force, you move every three years. So, I started first grade in California, in the fall of 1992. And about a month -- no -- yeah, actually, about a month into school, we moved to New Jersey. He was re-stationed to McGuire Air Force Base in South Jersey. But we hadn't bought a house yet, so we didn't have anywhere to stay. So, we stayed in North Jersey with my grandparents, and I continued school for a few months at the school up in North Jersey. And then when we finally bought a house and moved in, I changed schools again and finished first grade in South Jersey. So, I bounced around a lot.
NNAMDIWas that tough for you?
DOOLITTLEYou know, I think it was. I think it was. I don't remember that much, but I think -- because by nature, I'm a shy person. I'm a quiet person, and it was tough for me to get out of my comfort zone and have to make new friends. But it's still (laugh) something I kind of struggle with today, but, you know, it probably helped, on some level, going through that at such a young age, to be able to have to get out there and try to do that.
NNAMDIHere is 13-year-old Abby in Arlington, Virginia. Abby, you're on the air.
ABBYWhat was the first thing you did and said right after you won the World Series?
DOOLITTLEOh, man. I don't know if I said anything, to be honest. I was a little bit in shock. I remember when we got the last out of the game, everybody in the bullpen was jumping up and down and hugging each other. And then we ran in, and we were jumping up and down on the infield. And I remember several times during that celebration, kind of like wandering off a little bit, like outside of the celebration and just, like, putting my hands on my head. And I couldn't believe it. Like, you know, last year was my eighth season in the major leagues, and I had never been on a team that made it past the first round of the playoffs.
DOOLITTLESo, the World Series seemed so far away to me, it seemed like something I might never get close to. And to win in game seven, I couldn't believe it. We were hugging each other, and we were laughing and we were screaming, but there wasn't a whole lot of (laugh) talking. A lot of us -- because everybody on the team, it was their first World Series, too. So, there were a lot of wide eyes, big smiles and big hugs.
NNAMDIWell, Baby Shark was Gerardo Parra's walkup song, but it became the team's anthem last year. Your walkup song is a little different. Let's hear a bit of it.
NNAMDIThat's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," by Metallica. Why did you choose that?
DOOLITTLEI chose that all the way back in 2012, my rookie year. After I had been in the big leagues for a little while, some of the older guys said, all right, you can finally pick your song. What do you want it to be? And, at the time, I was playing with the Oakland As, and that band, Metallica, got their start very close to Oakland. And that was always one of my favorite songs by them. And I wanted to -- I knew that that was the song that I wanted to pick. And I've had it ever since. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is also a really good book.
NNAMDIOh, it sure is.
DOOLITTLE(laugh) So, it works both ways.
NNAMDIIndeed. We're just about out of time. Sean Doolittle, the pitcher for the World Series Champions Washington Nationals. Sean Doolittle, thank you for joining us. See you at the ballpark sometime in the future, I hope. Take care.
DOOLITTLEI hope. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
NNAMDIOur “Kojo for Kids” show with Sean Doolittle was produced by Lauren Markoe and our conversation about spiking interest in firearms was produced by Victoria Chamberlin. This was Victoria's last show with us. We're sorry to say goodbye to her, but delighted that she remains a part of the WAMU family as she takes on her new role as a reporting fellow with Guns in America, a reporting collaboration between WAMU and nine public radio stations across the nation. Victoria, thank you for your creativity, your diligence and, of course, your sense of humor.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, writers Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi join us to discuss what quarantine means for creatives. Plus, indie soul band Oh He Dead on how coronavirus has upended the lives of local musicians. That all starts at noon tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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