BASEBALL AND BOOKS

Sean Doolittle

Sean Doolittle is used to getting attention on the pitcher's mound; he's credited with a save in the Washington National's 2019 World Series victory. But he's also a self-professed reading geek, and has been recently named the 'National Ambassador for Independent Bookstores'. While on the road for away games, Doolittle has made it a practice to seek out independent bookstores, and then share his visits on Twitter. Doolittle, an avid reader, particularly of science fiction and fantasy, commented to the Wall Street Journal "I want to support these places that are active in their communities, that are trying to be supportive and inclusive spaces for their communities."

TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

I am super excited today to have a somewhat unique guest for the End Book  Deserts podcast. Welcome, Sean Doolittle, who is a major league player…pitcher. Congratulations, of course, on a pretty big win last year. 

 

Sean Doolittle

Thank you very much. 

 

Molly Ness

Sean has been pretty patient with me. I’ve been sort of cyberstalking him about joining the podcast. First of all, I feel like we’ve got lots of common interests.  First of all, I am a UVA grad. I spent five of the best years of my life down there earning my doctorate. I think…when were you there, what years? 

 

Sean Doolittle

I was there between 2005 and 2007. 

 

Molly Ness

We overlapped for sure, and we can certainly talk about all of our favorite hangouts on the corner later. I am a huge baseball fan. So much so to…actually,  I named my daughter Callie, after my childhood hero, Cal Ripken. 

Sean Doolittle

That’s great. He was my favorite player growing up. That’s so cool. 

Molly Ness

I would like to say that since 1986 or so it’s been a rebuilding season for the O’s,  but I’ll always be a fan. 

Sean Doolittle

They had really good years in the late ‘90s. They were in the playoffs every year. 

Molly Ness

They were doing well then, but actually in the late ‘90s is when I lived in Oakland and I was watching the Moneyball team of the Giambi's and all those guys. I was a teacher out in Oakland and went to those games. It would be a Tuesday night and be like what do you guys want to do…let’s go see an A’s game because the tickets were super cheap. We’d always get them. Obviously, I am a book fan so we could talk forever. I’ve also been following in social media all of the social justice work you do and the community outreach. It’s really great to see somebody who is doing such important work in such a public forum. Thank you for your time today.

Sean Doolittle

I appreciate that. I am excited to be here. 

Molly Ness

Let’s talk about your informal nickname or role as the ambassador for…independent bookstore ambassador. Talk to us about how that started. 

Sean Doolittle

I guess it started from the adventure that I went on last year during the season. Early in the season…I believe it was our first road trip…we were in New York to play the Mets. I  tweeted out that every road city that we visited during the season I wanted to try to  carve out some time to visit at least one local independent bookstore. I started with  McNally Jackson at their SoHo location on Prince Street. I’d been there before. It’s one of my favorite spots in the city. We go there several times a year. You fall into some routines even on the road of places you like to visit and things you like to do. Going to bookstores was something I was already kind of doing anyway, but Book Twitter is my favorite subgenre of Twitter. The people that I’ve interacted have had so much fun talking about books and bookstores and stuff like that with people on Twitter. I just thought it would be something fun, a way to interact with people and share some of my experiences and get recommendations from other people about cool places to visit. I’ve always loved independent bookstores because of just the vibe in the store that you get when you’re in there. It’s something that’s…they have a way of capturing some of the character and the feel of the city that they’re in, of the neighborhood that they’re in.  Most of them do some really cool work in their local communities, which I think is really cool. I wanted to promote that, too. I never anticipated that it was going to be something that people responded to the way that they did. The response, it blew me away, and it became…as the season progressed and I visited more and more bookstores, more people got interested in it. Ultimately winning the World Series probably had something to do with it, too, as far as at least bringing some more attention to it. The ABA…the American Booksellers Association…reached out to me shortly after the World Series and said that they’d be interested in bringing me on board as the Indie Bookstore Day Ambassador for 2020. I am really excited about it. I am not sure…we’re still working on some plans for an actual bookstore day. I am going to be in  San Francisco. We’re playing the Giants that weekend. San Francisco has a lot of really, really cool Indie Bookstores, so I’ll be spoiled for choice. 

Molly Ness

Be sure to make it over to my old stomping grounds in the East Bay because in the Oakland-Berkeley area there are some amazing independent bookstores as well. When I was a teacher out there and needed some time away from school and just a space to hang out and clear my head and be in that cool vibe, there were lots of them. I have this picture in my mind of you walking around totally blinged out in your World Series ring, and then whatever trophy or necklace they’ll give you as the ambassador for independent bookstores. You’re going to look pretty awesome in that. The idea about book deserts in communities all over the country in urban areas and in rural areas not having access to a thing like an independent bookstore, what impact might that have on a community; why are independent bookstores such a vital part of a community and for spreading this reading culture that you’ve tapped into?

Sean Doolittle 

Well, I think one thing that I’ve noticed in just about every independent bookstore that  I’ve been in is there is at least someplace in the store where there might be bulletin boards or a dry erase board or something where announcements and community activities are posted. I think the independent bookstore…like I was saying before…have a really unique role in the way that they also serve the community.  They’re not just a business in so many aspects. They’re a community center. They’re a  place that hosts community meetings where people can come and continue their involvement in the community and discuss issues that are important to the community.  They also host…do so many things to promote reading as well. I think there is in most cases a tie-in to the community work that they do where they host book clubs and events with authors. That’s one thing I love, too, about indie bookstores, is the way that they actively promote authors and their work and stuff like that with events, Q&As,  forums, and stuff like that. I think that providing that space where people can come and discuss really important issues, current events, topics that are really important within their community…in that setting. There are a lot of places where some really, really important work is getting done. 

Molly Ness

Talk to us about your reading life. Obviously, you’re spending a lot of time in these bookstores. Are you like me, do you have a huge stack of books next to your bed that you are trying to make a dent in? What are you reading and how is this work influencing your reading life? 

Sean Doolittle

Yes, I do almost always have a stack of books that I am working my way through. I use  Goodreads to keep my book list somewhat organized. I do have a tendency to bounce around impulsively from one genre to the other. I read almost exclusively fiction. It wasn’t until this offseason really that I started reading nonfiction books. My reading…my love of books has evolved a lot over the years. When I was a kid, reading was really important in my upbringing, in my family. I was never allowed to go to practice or games no matter what was at stake if my homework wasn’t done. School always came first. I didn’t necessarily understand it at the time, but I am super appreciative of it now. I was a pretty good student. At least when I was in elementary school and middle school I read a lot of books. Going to the library in school was one of my favorite school activities that we would do. When the Scholastic Book Fair would come, that was one of the most exciting times of the year. I read a lot of Goosebumps.  I read a lot of sportsbooks. There is an author named Matt Christopher who wrote a lot of sportsbooks that were geared towards younger audiences. I also read a lot of Calvin and Hobbs. I don’t know if that counts. 

 

Molly Ness

Totally counts. I read all of them. 

Sean Doolittle

Before that, too, when I was a little bit younger than that, it was the great illustrated classics that I just actually stumbled upon when I was at a United Through Reading event last week that they’ve rebranded and the books look a lot different than they did when I was a kid. They’re still really cool. I always loved the illustrations. But then, you know, you start getting into high school and you kind of have a love/hate relationship with reading because you’re maybe forced to do it a little bit more. Some of the stuff that they pick for you to read in school isn’t always the easiest content to absorb. In college, you have to read so much for school anyway that there is not a whole lot of time or didn’t have a whole lot of energy between baseball and school to really read for fun as much. I guess I got away from it for a while. By the time I got to playing in the major leagues there is a lot of…so much of being a relief pitcher and pitching late in games when the game is on the line they’re high-level situations/high-stress situations. After games I struggled finding ways to decompress in a healthy way and really let my brain turn itself off and go from baseball mode back to being at home with my wife. I carried my work home with me a lot of times and it wasn’t easy to always turn the page and put the results of the game in their proper place…whether they were good or bad. For a  while, I would come home and play video games until all hours of the night or watch God knows what on Netflix until I fell asleep with my iPad on the bed. Reading became a  way for me to really decompress in a healthier way to escape and allow my brain to focus on something else. It was active. I was still using my brain, but it was letting me focus on something other than baseball for a little bit. I found that balance is really important for me to have in my life. Reading became an outlet for that to help me find that balance between sports and the other parts of my life. I’ve enjoyed sharing that.  It’s my favorite hobby and I’ve enjoyed sharing that with other people. 

Molly Ness

Do the guys on your team give you grief about this? Is there any put the book down or mocking all of this press and media coverage you’ve gotten over being a  hashtag nerd reader or what have you? 

Sean Doolittle

No. Actually, I think a lot of guys have hobbies or interests outside of sports that they also share with other people. There are a few guys on our team that are really into cars and classic cars and refurbishing them and what’s underneath the hood. I don’t know.  It’s a foreign language to me, but that’s just one example. I have even had a couple of players and trainers who have kids of their own and they’ve come to me for recommendations, or when they were at the field they made a point to come over to me and tell me about the books that they were reading and ask if I had read them. A  couple of guys have asked for book recommendations. A couple of guys have asked for just recommendations on places to go in certain road cities because one other thing  I like about going on adventures to find independent bookstores in these road cities that we visit is it takes you off the beaten path a little bit and you get into neighborhoods in the city that are much more authentic and have much more of that local character and flavor than you would get maybe around the areas in some of the hotels that we stay in.  A lot of them are interested in learning about some of these different neighborhoods and stuff like that. One thing I love, too, about playing for the Nationals is just that we have so many different personalities in our clubhouse. Without sounding too cheesy, guys are really accepting of the different kinds of people and the different interests that we have. At the end of the day, we come together in a really cool and organic way. Ever since I got traded over there in 2017 they knew I was a little bit weird. They knew I was a little bit nerdy, but they support me and they put up with me. I am really grateful for that.

Molly Ness

When you’re done with Spring Training and you’re done with the season and when you are done with this whole ambassador for independent bookstores…here is what we’re going to do next. We’re going to do a major league book club. How fun would that be? 

 

Sean Doolittle

That would be awesome. 

Molly Ness

I have my suitcase. I am willing to travel. I can put aside my allegiance to the  Orioles and route for the Nationals in pursuit of literacy and literary culture. We’ll hammer out the details later. 

Sean Doolittle

Okay. 

Molly Ness

I know you’ve also done some work in schools and with other literacy organizations to talk about reading and spread the love that you obviously have rediscovered of reading. What do you think as a society and as a larger…as a  nation…we can do to address this issue of book culture and of declining reading rates? What can we do? What are some of the ways we can tackle this issue?

Sean Doolittle

I think finding…you have to find…it’s been my experience…I’ve done some events with  D.C. Public Library. We did some cool events over the summer to promote summer reading programs. I was in some schools and some libraries for that. One thing that always surprised me when talking to the kids, they were really excited to learn about what counts as a book that they could read. I think there are a lot of kids…especially younger…maybe elementary school-age…that they think of reading and they think of doing school work. They think of a textbook. They think of something that they are forced to read from in school. When I suggested that they pick books that are about a  topic that they find really interesting, like sports or animals…even graphic novels, like comic books…they were so excited. They were looking at their teacher asking if that counts as reading and does that count as a book. They got really excited about it. I  think one thing is reminding kids…especially younger kids…that finding something that you’re interested in and reading about it, learning about it, just encouraging that…encouraging that kind of curiosity and growth, I think, is really important. It doesn’t necessarily matter as much what you read because once you start…once those wheels start turning in your brain, you start thinking about other things that are maybe related to what you’re reading about, or it just kind of snowballs and it grows and that curiosity is something that you want to encourage the kids to try to find ways to tap into at a really young age. I think meeting people where they are…regardless of what age…that’s just one example. This could work for older people, too…even people my age. Finding ways to meet them where they are and encourage them to just explore reading and explore books in their own way I think would go a long way for promoting it.  I talk a lot about independent bookstores, but libraries are really so important. I don’t really…personally, I haven’t spent that much time going to libraries recently just because of all the travel. It’s hard to have…we don’t really have a home base. We live here in Chicago and we have library cards at the library chain here in our neighborhood.  We’ve been a few times. It’s incredible to me how far libraries have come since I was a kid. I have a cousin…she’s actually my wife’s cousin, but I consider her my cousin…who is a librarian in Colorado. We visited her and seeing the programs that they have there…afterschool programs, stuff on the weekends, things for kids to come and do. They even have rooms set up where they can play video games between doing different activities and stuff. I think it’s important to recognize what we’re competing against when we’re trying to promote reading…video games and smartphones and social media. There are so many other things that can be distractions from learning from education and reading that finding books about things that people love, I think, has been a way that I’ve really been able to connect with…especially new readers…when it comes to just promoting reading in general. 

Molly Ness

I am so glad to hear you comment on this idea of embracing everyone’s reading choices without judgment. It actually brings us back to your idea that when you were a kid you started reading Calvin and Hobbs. Now the modern version of  Calvin and Hobbs is graphic novels. We just this week had a graphic novel be chosen as the Newberry award winner. I think that is going to do a lot to send teachers and librarians and schools and parents and kids the message that reading in all its different forms and all of its different genres and formats matters and is valid regardless of whether you’re reading War and Peace or Diary of a  Wimpy Kid. I am super excited to hear about that. Also, thank you for the parenting advice. I am going to make sure that my fourth-grader listens to you praise your parents for enforcing homework first. My fourth grader is an ice hockey player. That’s a pretty time-consuming sport. 

Sean Doolittle

Yes, a lot of travel. 

Molly Ness

A lot of travel, a lot of cold ice rinks, a lot of standing around the arctic tundra in early mornings. Our spring training isn’t in Florida, so you certainly have that on us. Obviously, I could talk to you for hours, but just being mindful of the time I want to make sure that I ask you the question that I ask every guest on my podcast. In the spirit of talking about our reading identities and building and promoting reading culture, I am hoping you can share a book either from your past or present that has really had a profound impact on you. It’s sort of a different question than your favorite book, but what is that one book that still resonates with you and that you want to recommend to other readers? 

Sean Doolittle

You sent this over in an email before our conversation. I’ve thought about it a lot. My wife and I were talking about it. I am having a really hard time narrowing it down to just one book. 

Molly Ness

Understandable. Most people try to cheat and say, well, I could choose this book,  but I am not going to, so then it was maybe this book. They’re really getting in,  like, four books before they narrow it down to one. I am totally fine with you cheating because there are just too many books to choose.

 

Sean Doolittle 

One of my favorite genres is Dystopian Fiction. I love the way that it kind of holds this mirror up to our society and reminds us of really just how fragile what we have here is,  and how it could go off the rails really easily. It’s a little bit dark. In the times that we’re living in now, it’s sometimes a little bit too real. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia  Butler is a book…I’ve read it a couple of times. It’s one of the few books I’ve read multiple times. There is just something about it that…it’s one of my favorite books. It was one of the first books that I read that had to do with dystopian fiction. There is a  little bit of an element of sci-fi and fantasy fiction in there as well. For me, I would say that it influenced my reading tastes quite a bit because it opened up this world of alternative fiction that led me to some really cool fantasy stuff like N. K. Jemisin, and her Broken Earth trilogy, which is one of my all-time favorites, which in turn led me to the  Shades of Magic series by V. Schwab. In that respect, the way that it had a really,  really profound impact on opening up this world to me that I didn’t really know existed as far as some of this sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian fiction that has become kind of my go-to. I  always look for the sci-fi fantasy section right when I walk into a new bookstore. To be honest, that’s kind of how I judge them. The bigger the selection the sci-fi fantasy section there is usually a parallel to how good the bookstore is. That book for so many reasons. The sequel Parable of the Talents…they kind of go together. It’s a heavy book. It’s a heavy read. There is some imagery and some stuff that will stick with you after the book…done reading the book…but I think it does what any good book should do and force you to think about maybe some bigger picture things. Like I said, it also opened up a whole new world of books for me as well. That would be the one that I  would go with. Like I said, I haven’t read that much nonfiction. I have my Goodreads open right now. 

Molly Ness

Let me just pause you for a second and say that I hope you cheat less on the pitcher’s mound than you do at narrowing it down to one book because you just got like eight books in there…a whole series. 

Sean Doolittle

I was trying to illustrate how…like the question was how did it impact you as a reader.  That was my example, is that it opened up this world to me of a genre of books that I  had never really thought about even diving into. We’ll leave it there. I could go on. I  was looking at my good reads. There has been some stuff that I’ve read recently that I  really, really enjoyed, but I don’t want to want to submit too much to recency bias.  Parable of the Sower is one of my all-time favorites, and I hope people check it out. 

Molly Ness

Admittedly, I don’t read very much dystopian stuff. I am more of a modern-day fiction kind of thing. You’re title dropping and I am writing it down saying how do  I spell this? I have to look up your list on Goodreads. Now I have another way of stalking you…not just on Twitter. Now I’ll look for you on Goodreads. Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for all of the work and the spirit of fun and building reading culture that you’re doing just by going to independent bookstores and making people aware that this is an important part of your identity and something that you want to invest your time and energy into. Thank you for joining us on the podcast. We look forward to following you on the pitcher’s mound. I will now cheer more wholeheartedly for the Nationals even though I am a Baltimore girl through and through. At least we can always route for UVA and not have any disagreement on that. 

 

Sean Doolittle

Yes. 

Molly Ness

Thank you for your time today. 

 

Sean Doolittle

Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun.