by James Arvantes
The Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle brought his love of books and reading to the Cleveland Park Library on July 27, telling a capacity crowd of nearly 200 parents and kids how his affinity for literacy has played a major role in shaping his life.
As a child growing up in South Jersey, Doolittle’s love of books came naturally. “When I was a kid during the school year,” he recalled, “a class would go to the library once a week to pick out a book.
“There were two books I got almost every other time – one was about sharks and the other about baseball,” said the left-handed pitcher, who spoke as part of the DC Public Library’s Summer Challenge, a program sponsored by the Washington Nationals that challenges kids and others to read for at least 20 minutes a day during the summer.
As a child, Doolittle grew up in a home where his parents encouraged him to read. His family, like many families living in South Jersey, spent their summer vacations on the Jersey shore. But every year before going on vacation Doolittle’s parents made sure he stopped by the local library to pick up a book to read while at the beach, thereby strengthening his ties to books and reading.
Doolittle participated in last year’s Summer Challenge event, also held at the Cleveland Park Library. Like last year’s event, Doolittle signed autographs and read a book, Curious George at the Baseball Game, to young fans gathered in front of him.
He also took questions from a moderator, Marisa Bateman, the library’s support coordinator, and from youngsters in the audience. When asked by Bateman to name his favorite book as a child, Doolittle did not hesitate, saying, “Where The Wild Things Are is still one of my favorite books.”
“I read longer books now,” he quipped as the audience laughed.
He also liked the book Chicka Chicka Boom, Boom as a child.
Not surprisingly, most of the questions posed by the children concerned baseball. One young fan, for example, asked Doolittle to name his favorite baseball team when he was growing up.
“Don’t get mad at me – I grew up a Phillies fan,” he said as the audience groaned.
Doolittle explained that he lived about 20 to 30 minutes from Philadelphia as a child, well within the Phillies geographic fan base.
“It is really important that when we play the Phillies I do well so that I have bragging rights when I go home,” he joked.
Doolittle also said Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. was his favorite player growing up, a remark that prompted applause from the audience.
“Even though I grew up a Phillies fan, my dad’s side of the family is from Annapolis so he tried to raise us as Orioles fans,” he explained. “It didn’t really work, but Cal Ripken is still my favorite.”
As a young baseball player, Doolittle wore number 8 in honor of Ripken, and like Ripken, he played shortstop even though lefthanders do not usually play that position.
Doolittle played college baseball at the University of Virginia, alternating between pitcher and first base. He played with future Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman for one year at UVA.
“That was pretty cool because he was really, really good,” Doolittle said. “I got to learn a lot from him even back then.”
The Oakland Athletics chose Doolittle in the first round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, and after making the big league team in 2012, he played for the Athletics until 2017. In 2017, the Athletics traded him to the Nationals, where he joined his former college teammate Zimmerman, who was then with Washington.
“It was really cool when I got traded over here to play with one of my college teammates,” he said.
One young fan asked Doolittle why he changed his number from 62 to 63 and although Doolittle declined to elaborate, he said, “It was a tribute to someone in my family after something that happened during spring training.”
“It means a lot to wear a number that is really special to my family,” he added.
Doolittle delivered his own special gift to the parents and children gathered at the Cleveland Park Library on July 27. His participation in the Summer Challenge underscores the importance of books and reading to every profession, including major league baseball, a message that resonated with both parents and their children.