Ace relief pitcher Sean Doolittle was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals in July of 2017. He eloped with his then-girlfriend, Eireann Dolan one day after the regular baseball season ended last year. Doolittle was named a 2018 All-Star this week; he was a member of the 2014 MLB All-Star team and this season is rounding out to be one of the best of his career.
Doolittle and Dolan received national attention in 2015 when they purchased hundreds of tickets to the Oakland Athletics Pride Night after the event received backlash from fans. The tickets were donated to local LGBTQ groups and an additional $40,000 was raised.
Local LGBTQ youth leadership and housing program, SMYAL, has caught the attention of Doolittle and Dolan and they donated 52 tickets to the organization for Night OUT at the Nationals last month. Going a step further, they stopped in personally to deliver the tickets at the SMYAL youth program’s headquarters and the SMYAL transitional housing program.
The Washington Blade sat down with the couple inside Nationals Park for a conversation about the LGBTQ community, life in D.C., baseball and music.
Washington Blade: You’re both active with charitable causes including work with Syrian refugees and military veterans’ mental health and housing. How did you become interested in the LBGTQ community?
Eireann Dolan: I have two moms. But even if I didn’t, I think this is something that’s really important. It’s always been really important, at least in my family. And something that we’ve always valued is the idea of having an accepting place. Having a sense of home. It factors into all the charity work that we do, all of the community work. We work with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. We’re going to have about 30 refugees coming to the game tomorrow night.
Blade: That’s incredible.
Dolan: Yeah, so we’re going to have them on the field and they are veterans who are injured or widowed. We deal with housing for them. Our theme seems to be a sense of home. Making sure people feel welcome. Whether they’re a refugee, whether they’re a veteran returning or transitioning back into civilian life, or whether they’re somebody in the LGBTQ community who maybe hasn’t considered that sports would be a space for them. We want to make sure that they know it is a space for them. They do have a home here and we accept them as they are. It’s always been really important to us.
Blade: And then you stumbled upon SMYAL here in D.C.
Dolan: We did. Well, it kept getting name dropped to us so many times by so many people.
Doolittle: In advance of the Nationals Pride night, we wanted to get involved. We wanted to do something more than catch the first pitch or meet some people on the field before the game. And we love this community, we love being here, and we wanted to give back. And like she said, in some of the meetings we had with the folks here, with the Nats, SMYAL had been referenced several times. We were able to make a couple visits over there before Pride night.
Dolan: That was incredible.
Doolittle: It’s an incredible organization and the holistic approach that they take, helping with everything from housing to leadership to education to helping people become voices in their communities.
Dolan: That was the biggest thing, I think.
Doolittle: And then coming back. They go through the program and then they come back to SMYAL to give back and pay it forward. That was something that we found to be incredibly inspiring. And if, through this process, we can lift their voices up and help tell their stories, that’s what we’re trying to do.
Blade: Do either of you have any thoughts as to why Major League Baseball has never had an openly gay player? There seems to be upper management support, team player support and fan support.
Dolan: There’s a lot of hesitation for any athlete, and baseball particularly, to share a lot of their private life, just full stop. Baseball is a bit more buttoned-up. The players themselves are not marketed in such a way, or they don’t maybe market themselves in such a way that talks about their personal life. You look at basketball, you look at football, you look even at hockey. You know the spouses. You know the families. You know what they do. You know where they’re from. But in baseball, it’s a little bit different. I think that may contribute to it, but that, I don’t think is the answer entirely.
Doolittle: I do think there is growing support, like you talked about. I think Major League Baseball’s taken steps towards it. I still think there are steps that need to be made in educating more people. I think as we continue to make it a better space, a more accepting space, we can continue to get rid of all this toxic masculinity bullshit that happens in a locker room.
Blade: Does it happen here with the Nationals?
Doolittle: Of course it happens. It’s performative. Sometimes that’s a guy’s way of psyching themselves up to go play. But I think we’re seeing less and less of it, and it’s fallen by the wayside. We just need to be continuously focused on creating a space that’s accepting. When you’re with these guys in such close proximity over six, eight months over the course of the season, guys should be OK with being themselves. Whether it’s you’re gay or whether it’s a different religion, or you’re from a different country. We have guys in here from how many different countries? How many different religious backgrounds? So I think just continuing that evolution in the clubhouse.
Dolan: That sports era of the ’90s, early 2000s of hyper-masculine, almost borderline toxic masculine, alpha, humiliate your opponent, keep your head down, don’t look like you’re having fun. That’s waning because fans want fun. They like the back flips. They like the personality. And you’ve got guys out there, you’ve got little pockets of people showing their personality.
Blade: Do you think this team is ready for a gay player?
Doolittle: I don’t know. And that’s the thing, I don’t think we’re going to know until that happens. I wish I had a better answer.
Dolan: I think baseball is ready and I think clubhouses know if a guy can help your team, period, the end. Doesn’t matter.
Blade: What’s your take on the NFL’s anthem protest?
Dolan: It’s not an anthem protest, that’s my first thing. They’re not protesting the anthem, they’re protesting the violence against young African-American men, particularly.
Doolittle: I think the NFL’s response was incredibly dangerous and disgusting. You’re punishing guys by policing peaceful protesting. I think it sends a really bad message across the United States.
Dolan: And if you say no politics in sports, then how do you explain flyovers that you do before games? How do you explain all the active recruiting that they do for the military during games? Why are we picking and choosing? When you’re telling young African-American men, “We want to watch you, we want to watch you do this particular thing, but don’t talk,” that just smacks of something that I thought this country had moved past.
Doolittle: I think it could have been a relatively short-lived story with a much better ending if, initially, they had focused their energies on listening and trying to figure out a way to get guys to stand. So when Kaepernick starts kneeling, they start listening to his message. They help him get involved to focus that message into action in the community. And soon enough, we have guys that are proud to stand up for the anthem because they’re helping their communities and bettering people and remedying the situation. And I think, unfortunately, it’s been used as something in this culture war that we’ve seen. These guys have done a lot of incredible work in their communities. They’ve met with government officials, they’ve done a lot of outreach with law enforcement in their communities. They are backing it up with significant action. So I wish everybody felt good enough and proud enough to stand for the anthem without being told that they had to do so.
Blade: Would you go to the White House if the Nats win the World Series?
Doolittle: People have asked me that before, and you don’t get to answer that question unless you win the World Series
Dolan: We’ll talk to you in October.
Blade: As a relief pitcher, you’re either the hero or the goat. How do you deal with that on a daily basis? Do you have stress techniques?
Doolittle: I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the last couple years. Early in my career, I pitched with a lot of emotion and I put a lot into, like you said, whether you’re the hero or the goat in that scenario. There’s no gray area in that line of work. There’s no, well I thought I executed my pitches really well, I just didn’t get the results I wanted. That’s not a great consolation prize for you or the other 24 guys on your team.
Dolan: And the fans don’t want to hear it.
Doolittle: Yeah, and it’s tough to explain that away. I was very attached to how I was pitching, and if I was getting the job done. If I didn’t get the job done, that was a blow to my self-esteem. Over the last few years, I worked a lot at processing the outings, mentally preparing for the outings, changing the way that I use that energy. I used to pitch with a ton of emotion. Now, I use the energy to hyper focus. I want to calm things down. I want things to be slow and smooth.
Dolan: You’re very Zen.
Doolittle: I think it’s helped me manage a lot of that stress. It’s not always easy, but it’s an occupational hazard.
Blade: Your stats this year are amazing and…..
Dolan: Don’t say them, don’t say them, don’t say them.
Blade: All right. Don’t say them out loud?
Dolan: No. We’re very superstitious.
Blade: Are the stats that shall not be named a result of your comfort level in D.C. or are you doing something different in training?
Doolittle: I feel very comfortable in D.C. We love it here. I changed some things. But a lot of it was behind the scenes. We changed a lot with the arm care program that I have. I dealt with some shoulder injuries in the past, when I was with Oakland, and I missed some time on the disabled list, and I think sometimes, just getting a fresh set of eyes or a new way of explaining things, really helps. And we added some things to that program, to the daily routine. I feel strong. I feel, at this point in the season, even with the work load I’ve had, I feel really good about where my body’s at, and I think when you don’t have to worry every day about, how’s my arm going to feel when you come to the field, you can throw yourself into focusing on your outing and who you might face rather than focusing on trying to get your body ready to pitch. So that’s been a load off my shoulders, pardon the pun.
Dolan: Did you catch the eye roll on the recording? Was it loud enough?
Blade: You had an unusual path to becoming an MLB relief pitcher. You pitched growing up and also played first base at University of Virginia. And then, you were drafted by the Oakland Athletics as an outfielder and a first baseman. Is this where you were supposed to be the whole time? There was a little side path.
Doolittle: I feel like it is. It’s a lot easier for me to say this now, but I’m glad I went through that transition process. There were some really dark times. I missed three full seasons on the disabled list in the minor leagues.
Dolan: So close to getting a call up, too. He was right on the cusp.
Doolittle: And before I got hurt the first time in 2009….
Blade: As a first baseman?
Doolittle: As a first baseman, yeah. It’s totally shifted my perspective on everything. This almost didn’t happen at all. In 2011, I had contacted my agent to go back and try and figure out the process of re-enrolling in college, because I was that far at the end of my rope. And the A’s came to me and said, “Hey, would you like to think about pitching?” I joke that I took the scenic route to the big leagues. It makes me appreciate every day that I get to wear that little logo on the back of my hat that says I’m in the big leagues. It came really close to never happening.
Dolan: There’s something to be said about having experienced adversity and failed. I don’t think I would be with him if he was this super successful player. I don’t think I would have been drawn to him.
Doolittle: Right, you learn a lot of humility, you learn a lot about yourself.
Dolan: Yeah. If you’d been that first round pick that you were, superstar first baseman….
Doolittle: I was the man.
Dolan: You were the man.
Blade: You prefer him damaged?
Dolan: That’s right up my alley. Who else is going to humble him, honestly?
Blade: What are you liking about living in D.C.?
Doolittle: It’s an awesome city. There’s a good energy, there’s a creative energy, it’s very diverse, it’s very accepting. The sense of community, the pride of being from D.C., that’s a thing that we found that I think was really cool. There’s a lot that we like about it.
Dolan: It’s amazing. We love the local bookstores and local record shops. We love just discovering new, cool spots that we can hit up every time we have a spare hour or so.
Blade: What about the excitement of MLB All-Star Week being in the town where you’re now pitching?
Doolittle: I think it’s awesome. I think us players, we’re starting to feel that buzz and that energy surrounding it. I’m excited for the Nationals fans and the organization, because they’ve done everything so first class. There’s a good energy surrounding D.C. sports now, and I think to bring the best players from around baseball here to D.C., that’s going to be really cool.
Blade: Has the Stanley Cup win by the Washington Capitals affected the team in any way?
Doolittle: We definitely followed it as a team. Before or after our games, whenever the Caps were playing, the TVs in the clubhouse were on. We were following it on our phones, or any chance we could, we were watching the game. We were all in, and I think it was great for us because they gave us the blueprint. They showed us how it’s done. They’ve had a similar storyline. They’ve had to answer a lot of the same questions we’ve had to answer after having really successful, regular seasons, but not making the deep run into the playoffs. They’ve had to answer the questions, is this the year you get over the hump? How are you guys going to break through?
So to see them do it, and to see them break through and not stop, and keep going. It was really fun. And when they came here, that was the biggest thing that they said. It was really cool to share that experience, just for a little bit, with the Cup, in the locker room and on the field.
Even though it’s a different sport, that energy, you can feel it. We’ve had Champagne celebrations before, and once you get a taste of that, you want more. And that’s really motivating, to have another team in your city bring in a trophy like that.
Dolan: And to see the parade and the reaction from the fan base. This is a sports city. And I don’t think people give it enough credit for being the sports city that it is. It was a nice taste.
Blade: Sean, you are a Star Wars fan and your Twitter handle is Obi-Sean Kenobi. Was the Solo movie a win or lose for you? Did you go in costume?
Doolittle: I loved it and we didn’t go in costume this time. We were in Miami, so we were on the road. But we did see it opening night.
Dolan: It was really hot there; a Chewbacca costume would have been difficult.
Doolittle: Yeah. And I don’t know if I can pull off a Princess Leia bikini.
Dolan: Not to say we haven’t tried. There’s your cover picture.
Blade: What’s on your music playlist right now?
Doolittle: I’m a metalhead. I was raised on the sounds of Black Sabbath and Ozzy, AC/DC and Metallica, and my love for it grew from there. When we were kids, we would be going to a Little League game. I’d be nine years old and we were rolling up in the minivan, blasting Black Sabbath.
Dolan: Oh, bad, bad. Love it.
Doolittle: There’s a band from Texas called Power Trip. They’re new but their sound is very ’80s thrash, which I really dig. There’s another band call Chemist. It’s called doom metal. It’s a lot slower and they have some good stuff. I really only listen to it when I’m at the field. When we’re at home, it’s a lot more mellow.
Dolan: We’re pretty eclectic at home. It’s not all metal for us. We like a lot of the new Nashville sound. I’m not a huge country fan, but Sturgill Simpson and….
Doolittle: Jason Isbell.
Dolan: And Colter Wall, yeah. A lot of that is really good. And I love hardcore gangster rap, honestly. I’m not going to lie, it’s my weakness. When he’s pitching, I put on noise canceling headphones and blast gangster rap. Tupac or Biggie, and it works. It calms my nerves because there’s something about it.
Blade: There are nerves for you while he’s pitching?
Dolan: I don’t watch, no. I haven’t watched him pitch live in years. I’m too superstitious.
Blade: Give me a quirk about the other person that makes you laugh.
Doolittle: Oh my god.
Dolan: He has a tactile thing about mesh.
Doolittle: It’s very soft.
Dolan: He likes to touch mesh.
Doolittle: Quirks that make me laugh….
Dolan: Careful, careful.
Doolittle: Well the aforementioned noise canceling headphones, she likes them so much that she’s taken to wearing them in the shower.
Dolan: They’re large speakers and I have three separate shower caps.
Doolittle: She took 45 minutes in the bathroom recently and I was like, what is going on? I was knocking on the door. She didn’t hear me.
Dolan: I bought a deep conditioner mask. Listen, this hair doesn’t get like this on its own.
Blade: Sean, we need to get you to practice. Let’s grab a photo first.
Doolittle: Oh, cool.
Dolan: All right. Don’t forget your dry cleaning, Sean. We want that front and center in frame.