Doolittle finds balance, focus in love of books

March 23rd, 2020

There’s a shelf in ’s Chicago home where he displays items that are important to him. Among the collection is a baseball signed by the 2019 World Series champion Nationals team. As a Major League pitcher, that’s to be expected.

Near that ball stands a book … and not just any piece of literature. It’s a first-edition copy of his favorite, “Parable of the Sower,” signed by author Octavia E. Butler that he purchased during a road trip in Los Angeles last season.

“I read all the time,” Doolittle said. “I don’t not read.”

Devouring books has become part of the ninth-year veteran’s daily life. Digesting the words on a page is just as meaningful to him as striking out batters in a lineup.

Growing up, Doolittle pored over the “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Goosebumps” series, by Bill Watterson and R.L. Stine, respectively. He also read Matt Christopher’s books on sports. Doolittle got away from leisurely reading as he focused on baseball during high school and college, then his interest revived during his MLB career.

“Books are my favorite way to kind of unwind and mentally decompress over the course of a season,” he said. “Over the past few years, it’s really become a little bit of a routine where I come home after a game and I’ll read for half an hour, an hour before I go to sleep.

“I’ve tried a lot different things -- video games, Netflix, whatever. I just think it’s a healthier way to decompress over the course of a long season and give me something else to kind of focus my brain on, my energy on so that I’m not just ruminating about the game, or something like that. It kind of helps me have that balance, so I love it.”

Doolittle estimates he read 20 books in the offseason -- keep in mind, the Nationals played until the end of October -- and another eight in the first four weeks of Spring Training. He explored some nonfiction titles this winter, but his go-to genres are science-fiction and fantasy, to be exact.

“Fiction’s still my favorite. I like getting weird with it,” Doolittle said. “I like books that are about -- it sounds so corny to say -- but ghosts and magic and kind of like in the vein of ‘Game of Thrones.’ A little bit of stuff like that where it’s fantastical, wizardry, magic.”

Just as baseball has taken Doolittle all over the country, it has also expanded his book collection. He maximizes his time on the road by scoping out independent bookstores for his next selections. “For whatever reason,” Doolittle said, he buys the books in fours.

Before he scans the aisles, he searches the website Goodreads to narrow down one or two titles. He’ll look specifically for those, and then see what else grabs his attention. Sometimes, he scoops up so many books on the road, he has to mail them home separately because they’re too heavy to bring on the team plane.

“I will totally judge a book by its cover,” Doolittle said. “If I think it looks cool, I’ll buy it. I have one waiting for me at home that I bought just because the cover was so sick. It was a fantasy book -- it’s called ‘Mazes of Power’ by Juliette Wade. It came out right before Spring Training.”

During his travels, Doolittle posted photos of books and bookstores to his social media. In doing so, he became part of an online community of fellow readers. He calls it “Book Twitter,” and describes it as supportive, inclusive and fun. With over 141,000 Twitter followers, his posts caught on. This year, the American Booksellers Association named him the 2020 Indie Bookstore Day Ambassador to commemorate the April 25th holiday.

Doolittle beamed as he talked about the honor.

“I’ve had so much fun sharing books and reading with fans,” he said. “I didn’t really think it was going to turn into anything, but it ended up being something people really responded to. I just think it’s cool because they’ve had some really cool ambassadors in the past, like Neil Gaiman and Tayari Jones -- like really, really good writers that have had this before, so I’m really excited to carry the torch.”

Doolittle keeps his reading separate from work. He notes that he doesn’t read in the clubhouse, but he will before and after going to the park. And when it’s the offseason, there’s no shortage of reading material in his home. Doolittle and his wife, Eireann Dolan, organized them in Dolan’s office (her books and a shelf of Doolittle’s sci-fi books), in a guest room (Doolittle’s favorites and rare books) and in a bookcase in the front room with their shared nonfiction books.

“I joke, I say it’s our greatest hits collection so that when people come over, they see how refined we are,” Doolittle said with a laugh.

Among all those shelves rests that autographed edition of “Parable of the Sower,” one of the few titles Doolittle has read more than once. The book was signed to a “Susan,” and now Doolittle has embraced the copy as his own, all part of his spreading and receiving the joy of reading.

“It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m not at the field,” he said. “And I just enjoy sharing it with people.”