“In that moment in Detroit, I was still that angry baseball dork that was like, ‘What are you guys doing?!’ ” Doolittle said during an appearance this week on Jomboy Media’s “Talkin’ Baseball” podcast. “ ‘We can’t do a conga line after a one-run win in June. This can’t be okay. The baseball gods aren’t going to like this.’ ”
The conga line was a continuation of the clubhouse’s unusually festive atmosphere before the game. Even though the Nationals lost the night before, Aníbal Sánchez, Fernando Rodney and Gerardo Parra arrived that morning wearing the tinted sunglasses they picked up at a promotional giveaway table en route to the ballpark. They were singing and dancing, and they encouraged teammates to do the same.
The Nationals won seven of their next eight games after leaving Detroit and celebrated every one in similar fashion. Doolittle’s tune would soon change. When new players were acquired later that summer, Doolittle said he couldn’t wait to introduce them to the team’s celebrations, which typically involved a dance circle.
“Usually [Brian] Dozier was at the center of it, but they would pull guys in, guys that weren’t super comfortable getting out of their shells, like [Stephen Strasburg] and like me,” Doolittle said. “Contrary to what you might think, I am awful at dancing and I have no moves. I can floss, and that’s like my only dance. That’s my go-to.”
Doolittle recalled the time Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice was invited into the clubhouse after a win in late August and participated in the conga line. He credited Sánchez, Rodney and Parra for helping the rest of the team loosen up after a disappointing start to the season.
“It just got everybody to let their guard down, let their personality come out and have some fun,” Doolittle said. “It changed the season for us. In a game where we have these metrics for everything, that’s the one thing you can’t quantify. We’re lucky that we had those guys to help us get our heads on right.”
Doolittle also shared his thoughts on the “Soto Shuffle,” Juan Soto’s between-pitch routine, and like the Nationals’ dance party tradition, he wasn’t a fan at first.
“I would not love it if a guy was doing it to me,” Doolittle said. “I’m pro-bat flips and having fun when you play as long as it’s not directed at the pitcher. The ‘Soto Shuffle’ kind of really pushes the limit on that because when he’s doing the shuffle, he’s looking right at the pitcher and he’s making eye contact with him. It’s like: ‘Who is this guy? He’s 21 years old and he’s out here smiling at me? He’s shuffling?’ A lot of times he ends up in fair territory in front of home plate because the shuffle gets so big.”
Doolittle’s opinion of the shuffle changed during the seventh inning of a game at Milwaukee in July 2018. With two outs and two men on, Soto fell behind Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress 0-2 before working the count full and shuffling after every pitch.
“[Soto’s] talking to him. He’s shaking his head,” Doolittle recalled. “They’re kind of going back and forth in a competitive way. There’s no animosity.”
After striking out Soto swinging, Jeffress pounded his chest and shouted something in the young outfielder’s direction as he ran off the mound. Soto threw his helmet and bat to the ground by home plate before looking back at Jeffress and offering a smile and a nod.
“Here’s this 20-year-old kid that’s showing all this emotion, but he still has the presence of mind and the respect for the game and the humility to say, ‘Okay, I just got beat, and I got beat kind of at my own game,’ ” Doolittle said. “I knew that he was going to be okay in this league.”
Read more on the Nationals: