Sean Doolittle describes Nationals' sleepless night on a tarmac in Philly

Chris Lingebach
May 07, 2019 - 4:11 pm

Sean Doolittle relayed some details from the Nationals' sleepless eight-plus hour night on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport Monday night into Tuesday morning.

"We leave Philly. We actually had a police escort because the Sixers had a playoff game right next door and there was quite a bit of traffic," Doolittle told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance Tuesday, presented by Lindsay Volvo Cars of Alexandria.

Scheduled to fly out to Milwaukee, the Nationals arrived to their charter plane by 6:30 p.m. Monday. They did not yet know about the engine issue with the plane, which was about to leave them stranded there on the tarmac until 2:45 the next morning, foisting upon an already reeling baseball club a night of short, oft-interrupted sleep.

"They load the bags – that usually takes half an hour or so – and they close the doors," Doolittle retold. "We start driving down the runway. We ended up kind of driving around for like 45 minutes, then we end up back at the initial place on the tarmac where we boarded the plane."

"One hour turned into two hours, and then a little while into it, we got a message," he said. "They made an announcement that they were flying up the part that they needed to fix the plane, along with two pilots that had like enough flight hours, because the pilots that we had, they were gonna run out of time because of the delay. So they were like, 'We'll be in the air hopefully like 1:30 (a.m.).'

"And this was at like maybe 10 or 11 o'clock."

Fortunately, because it was a private charter, the plane doors were propped open as they waited, allowing the Nats to come and go freely to get some air and stretch their legs.

"It was cool outside, thank God," Doolittle said. "I don't know what would have happened if it was hot, because they couldn't have the air conditioning running because of what they were working on underneath. So, like, every once in a while, it would get a little warm. You'd go outside."

Doolittle was able to pass the time by watching "Game of Thrones" on his phone. Several others did the same. "If you hold your phone right up to your face, it's the same thing as watching a big-screen TV," he joked.

There were several points where the engines suddenly fired up again, the lights came back on, and hope was briefly renewed that they might depart soon.

"You're making the ding and the seatbelt light's going on," Doolittle said. "And you're like, 'We're close. We have to be close.'"

At one point, Doolittle said with anticipation, "No joke. One of the mechanics – bless his heart – was out there with a manual, like a book, with his head like in the engine, and that was around the time where we were like, 'Alright. We're not leaving tonight.'"

The mood on the plane remained "surprisingly tame," Doolittle described. "The guys handled it really, really well. It was a little bit grindy, especially at 3 a.m. when they finally called it."

'Calling it,' as if it were a baseball game on a rain-soaked field, only marked the first leg of their journey to nowhere.

"They said, 'Hey, this plane's not leaving tonight. We're gonna go back to the hotel in Philly,' the team hotel that we used for the series against the Phillies," Doolittle said. "They said we're gonna start unloading your luggage, the luggage under the plane, so go down, grab your bags.

"And it's 3 a.m. in South Philly and there's no way to get like a bus, so it was just people calling Ubers and taxis and Lyfts, and three, four, five, six guys would pile into one of those and go back to the hotel. I would say between 3:30 and 4:00 (a.m.) I think everybody finally made it back to the hotel."

"So you got maybe four, five hours of sleep because we left the hotel at 9:30 in the morning (Monday) to get to the airport," he said. "We got to the hotel in Milwaukee at like 12:30 local time, Central Time, and then I think we had a bus at 3:00 (p.m.) to get to the ballpark for a 6:40 game."

Doolittle estimates that between the tarmac and hotel in Philly, and two last-ditch hours at the hotel in Milwaukee, he was personally able to squeeze in seven combined hours of interrupted sleep. Although he didn't have to pitch that first game in Milwaukee, the rest of the club did.

"I had several, several cups of coffee yesterday before the game," he recalled. "To be honest, I don't know how those guys did it. I think Max's performance. What did he end up with? 10 strikeouts over six innings."

"They're my heroes, because I know where I was at, where my energy level was at," he said. "It wasn't so much, also, too, like how my body felt, but mentally you're in this fog a little bit and no matter how many cups of coffee you drink or how much caffeine you guzzle down, you might feel some kind of energy, but your brain, you just can't fully get there.

"They grinded it out. It obviously didn't go our way in the end, but Max gave us a chance to win that game and that was just an absolutely incredible effort."

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