A Long Goodbye to Sean Doolittle, the Retiring Nats Pitcher Who Epitomized DC Nerd Culture

One of us, one of us, one of us…

September 26, 2023 6:27 am
Sean Doolittle #63 of the Washington Nationals talks at a press conference about his retirement at Nationals Park on September 22, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Sean Doolittle #63 of the Washington Nationals talks at a press conference about his retirement at Nationals Park on September 22, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images

The Washington Nationals are saying farewell to a World Series champion, a pitcher who changed the game, a man who embodied what it means to be a Washingtonian. Yes, Stephen Strasburg is retiring — but we’re not talking about him. We’re talking about Sean Doolittle.

Doolittle announced his retirement last week, posting a heartfelt letter to Instagram that thanked his clubs, managers, teammates and those behind the scenes who make games happen. It was a perfect thank you from the best-read man in baseball. It was an excellent summation of an unlikely career.

Doolittle was drafted by the Oakland Athletics out of the University of Virginia, as a first baseman. Fun fact: He did not play first base once during his time in the bigs. He switched positions! That’s amazing. At the age of 25, he went back to the mound, returning to the role he had played in high school and college, and earned his way onto a club! That alone is worthy of a feature film. But things just got better, more inspiring and more DC-like. 

In 2015, some As season ticket holders said they were sitting out LGBT Pride Night. Doolittle and then-girlfriend/now-wife Eireann Dolan bought tickets to ensure the stadium would be as full as possible. This was the first of many instances when Doolilttle used his platform to support the LGBTQ community. He addressed homophobic tweets from fellow MLBers (including one from then-teammate Trea Turner) in 2018, wore Pride cleats in 2019, declined a White House invite in 2019 to stand in solidarity with his wife’s mothers and showed off a Pride glove in 2020. This year, during the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Dodgers debacle, Doolittle once again showed his support. And it’s not just talk. The pitcher and his wife helped raise over $6,300 this season for SMYAL, a nonprofit that works with LGBTQ+ youth. Throughout his time in the majors, Doolittle never sold out his values. 

In a league dominated by strong ideas about how a masculine man should act, Doolittle embraced nerd culture. His Twitter and Instagram handle is @whatwouldDOOdo. For years, his icon picture was him as Luke Skywalker, carrying Master Yoda. He celebrated the World Series victory while holding a lightsaber. His current picture shows him leaning against a wall, giving the peace signs, surrounded by graffiti with the message “Love More.” Maybe his greatest legacy will be his championing of independent bookstores throughout the country. This public performance of nerd is not typical for pro sports. It is common in DC circles. 

Even in the dumbest and funnest aspects of the sport, Doolittle excelled. When the Nats introduced the pitching cart in 2018, Doolittle was the first (and one of the only players) to accept a ride. No Nationals pitcher took a ride this year until the night Doolittle retired! Why are professional baseball players against fun? Do they not realize they dress like children and play a game meant for kids and drunks? Take a ride! 

Maybe the anecdote that makes him a real DC resident and not just a relatively famous athlete is when teenagers roasted him on the Metro, saying he looks like Seth Rogen. As a fellow white, bearded man between the ages of 35 and 45, getting called Seth Rogen hurts. Because it’s true. No other pro athlete in DC is riding public transportation and unafraid of what teens say to them. Every adult in DC who rides public transportation is afraid of what teens might say to them. 

The Nationals’ late-2010s glory days are over — but their 2019 World Series run was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for DC residents to see themselves in at least one member on their squad. Looking back, it’s clear that only one of those guys temperamentally resembled the people that cheered on the team — and actually lived in the city. Harper was gone — hell, he left for Philly before he got a ring! — and while one of the best ballplayers of his generation, not exactly a relatable figure. Trea Turner is almost as unique a ballplayer and living his best life as Harper’s teammate a few hours north. Juan Soto is wasting his time in San Diego and also cashing multimillion dollar checks. Anthony Rendon got out ASAP and has wasted the Angels’ money since his World Series performance. Future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer was the closest to Doolittle as an actual Washiongtonian, donating and using his unique eye situation to raise money for animal shelters (something Doolittle has done, too). But he’s also gone and fighting age and the odds with a potential Rangers’ playoff return. The pitcher who dominated headlines, for better or worse, the aforementioned Stephen Strasburg, is also retiring but not exactly according to the Nats (it’s messy). He’s also astronomically rich and lived in a gated community in San Diego during his best years with the DC team. And Mr. National Ryan Zimmerman golfed with the last president the week COVID came to America. None of those dudes are exactly what DC represents. Doolittle is. 

In a city full of transplants who lean left, champion LGBTQ rights and read copious amounts of books they’ve purchased at independent bookstores — and who left for a few years before coming back with a smile on their face, we could not have had a better National than Sean Doolittle. We’re lucky he chose this place as — his words — his “forever home.”

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