WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sean Doolittle has built a loose criteria for the next driver of the Washington Nationals bullpen cart.
The 31-year-old closer, who was the first and only Nationals pitcher to ride in the cart last season, saw the Nationals had posted the job opening recently and the wheels starting turning in his head. No past cart-related incidents on an applicant’s record is preferred. So is the ability to navigate around the warning track, drive without messing up the dirt and time each trip to the mound so the cart isn’t colliding with players jogging onto the field. Doolittle was the biggest reason — outside of a secured sponsorship — that the Nationals introduced the retro bullpen cart at the end of last summer. Now he wants to help shape its future.
“I would like to be,” Doolittle replied, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, when asked if he were involved in the interview process. “If they’re going to be driving me and my friends around, I would like to at least have some input. At least when you call for a Lyft or an Uber you get the rating and stuff like that. Maybe we could do some test drives or something.”
(On a more serious note: Doolittle threw six bullpen sessions before reporting to spring training Wednesday and said he did not feel any discomfort in his left foot. A pinched nerve in that foot kept him out for most of July and all of August last season, but he did return to make eight appearances in September. His progress is a great sign for the Nationals, who are hoping Doolittle regains the form that earned him an all star nod following a dominant first half in 2018.)
Back to the bullpen cart.
Doolittle made a strong push on social media for it last season, after the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers brought back the old gimmick at their ballparks. Doolittle rode in the Diamondbacks’ cart early in the year and was sold. But when the Nationals debuted theirs in mid-August, he was still on the injured list and his teammates passed on using it. Koda Glover said, ahead of the cart’s first game, “It’s a terrible idea. Now if the bullpen is across the street or something, I might take it. But it’s not, so I can run.” Matt Grace wondered whether it would actually save him time, since the cart drives along the warning track instead of straight to the mound across the outfield grass.
Then Doolittle returned Sept. 8 and the cart ushered him onto the field. The Nats Park crowd welcomed this with a big cheer, since they had grown used to the cart taking a lap around the field without anyone in the passenger’s seat. Trevor Rosenthal, who signed with Washington in late October, hinted this winter that he will ride into games on the cart, as well. So the new driver will have at least two customers to satisfy, and maybe more if Doolittle and Rosenthal prove to be trendsetters. The Nationals had more than 50 applicants by the end of last week. Whether any of them are up to Doolittle’s standards remains to be seen.
“If you’ve ever gotten kicked out of a golf course for driving across the fairway, you probably are disqualified for the job,” Doolittle said. “So those are things we need to know about.”