Sean Doolittle's shot at redemption

February 19, 2012, 7:20 pm
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Sean Doolittle is spring training, in the way fantasists want spring training to be. He is also the Oakland Athletics, in the way they are now always picking themselves up from some fresh disaster, bloodied yet undeterred.

Doolittle is a tale of reinvention, like so many this time of year a supplemental first round pick in 2007 by the As after an exemplary career as a first baseman and pitcher at the University of Virginia, making normal progress toward his career goal until his body snapped back at him with both force and malice.

A knee injury that cost him much of 2009 and all of 2010, then a torn tendon in his right wrist while swinging at a high fastball three days before prepping for his 2011 season in Sacramento, and suddenly his dream was not only deferred, but endangered.
He was rehabilitating the wrist to little effect and feeling more and more like an ex-player even before being a full-fledged player when Oaklands director of player development Keith Lieppmann essentially rehabilitated the parts of him that werent his wrist.

The wrist wasnt coming around, and I was starting to feel like I wasnt a part of anything and that maybe it was never going to happen, and Keith suggested I just start doing some throwing while Im rehabbing.

Doolittle signed on for anything that felt like baseball, and while he kept thinking the other show would drop, it didnt. His left arm got stronger while his right wrist remained stubbornly resistant to persuasion, and before long it occurred to him and Lieppmann that the pitching that made him so desirable a player at UVA might be his ticket out of medical hell and a cubicle future.

So he is in camp again, this time as a left-handed reliever hoping to make a club with a potentially large number of vacancies in his new specialty left-handed long man.

And there is no bat in his locker, for any number of valid temporal and psychological reasons. The bat is not only the instrument of his last and most formative career lurch, but a needless space-taker in a locker that hasnt the room for nostalgia.

They say bad things come in threes, Doolittle said, slightly twisting the analogy, and Ive had mine. So I have a renewed sense if energy and passion for the game after all this. Not being part of it for three years has been tough for me, even to watch the games on television, so Ive had to reinvent myself, and think of everything I have to do in a completely different way.

Indeed, that impatience has forced him to aggressively learn how not to be in a hurry to make up the three years on blocks.

Ive had to reorient my thinking from being a seven- to nine-inning guy to being a one- or two-inning reliever, he said. I have no real idea what to expect that way, so its sort of like my first big league camp again. The one thing I have learned for sure is never to take anything for granted again.

Most reinvention tales dont end well the leap from one calling to the other is typically too large, and stories like Doolittles dont have the desired ending for anyone. But these are the As, a team that is currently in one of its frequent fist-catching stages. The pitching staff is almost a night at the Improv, with anyone with a good story and sufficient arm strength is in the discussion.

But Doolittle has the advantage of being a new old guy in a room full of them. Pitching coach Curt Young is back after a year in the maelstrom of Boston, but manager Bob Melvin is opening his first spring training in Oakland with room in his bullpen to exercise his most creative notions, should he choose to have them.

Perhaps like Doolittle. His chances of making the team are minimal, as he has never pitched in the minor leagues, and between Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Joey Devine, Fautino De Los Santos, Jerry Blevins and Koji Uehara (ifwhen the As get him), the opportunities arent readily evident.

Still a man working on Life Number Four can afford to dream. After all, what could be better for the As in this, their sixth year of transition, than to have a metaphor for their current state of affairs in the clubhouse every day, reminding everyone of who and what they are, and what they could eventually become just by sitting in front of his bat-free locker?

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