WASHINGTON -- Weeks elapsed without baseball, so Sean Doolittle needed to find ways to occupy himself.
He worked out for two or three hours each morning, often leaving the house to take 30-mile rides on his road bike. He lost weight, continued the workouts, lost more weight. He threw into a net in his side yard. Doolittle granted himself the title of being in “pretty good shape,” then stalled himself from espousing a cliché.
“I'm not going to say I'm in the best shape of my life as a 33-year-old,” Doolittle said. “That ship sailed a long time ago.”
He was also watching social unrest across the country -- and baseball’s response to it -- with a keen eye. Former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond wrote a powerful message on Instagram outlining bigotry he dealt with, which Doolittle called “incredible” and said he read multiple times. He listened to a podcast with CC Sabathia, Chris Young, Cameron Maybin and Edwin Jackson in which they discussed microaggressions and other untoward situations they went through. He thought about how these conversations can continue when baseball games resume, and where baseball’s spot in the landscape would exist.
“This is our generation's civil rights movement,” Doolittle said. “There's never been a better time or a more important time to get involved and to help raise the voices of people who are trying to bring attention to some of these issues and share their experiences and go to a public demonstration, get involved -- whether it's with your voice or with your wallet. We're in a position where we can help a little bit financially with some of these causes. We still felt like we had a purpose and that there was something important that we were doing. That definitely, I think, kept us from being bored and missing baseball. There's more important things than baseball, but it's my job. So I was staying ready."
The process, and merit, of his job appears to have him concerned. Not long after Major League Baseball stopped March 12, commissioner Rob Manfred started touting the league’s return as a puff of joy for a society reeling from the onset of a pandemic. That idea has long passed. The sport spent three months bickering -- privately and publicly -- before ostensibly agreeing to what they already agreed to March 26, shifting the conversation from health and safety to finances. Doolittle called the pivot “tone-deaf” and “gross” when asked about it Sunday.
Then he talked about the increase in Black baseball players speaking out about the influence of systemic racism both in their personal and baseball lives. The MLBPA proposed a joint fund of $10 million -- split evenly between the union and league -- for social justice causes. The amount is paltry. It’s also more than zero for a sport traditionally lagging in diversity on the field and behind the scenes. Doolittle now wonders where baseball, “America’s pastime”, fits in the broader landscape of 2020.
“Is it just a distraction?” Doolittle said. “Is this like Ancient Rome [circus maximus] and stuff where we're just amusing the masses and giving them distraction from everything else that's going on in the world, all the bad things that are going on in the world?
“Or can we be a productive part of a discussion about ending racism and promoting equality and justice for everybody. I think we have reached a tipping point where over the last couple of months, guys have kind of found their voice. They've been maybe more active on social media than they have been throughout their career, and they've gotten a little bit more comfortable putting themselves out there. They've found support from other players around the league. So I think it's all culminated, and there's going to be a lot of guys that are going to continue these conversations. I'm proud to stand with those guys and try to amplify their voices and echo their message."
Doolittle uses his Twitter account to often address issues he feels compelled by. In person, he’s happy to talk extensively about a variety of topics, from books to union issues to society at-large. Sunday, he rode into the current status of the country as it relates to his profession. This is a standard approach for Doolittle. He’s a closer at work, involved human outside of it.
“ I've never wanted my entire identity to be wrapped up in baseball,” Doolittle said.
Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: