The Road Back
Making hitters look helpless is what Steven Dooley does best. The Webster University sophomore right-handed pitcher has been dominant out of the bullpen for the Gorloks this season, thanks to the one-two punch of his mid-to-high 80s fastball and his knee-buckling curveball.
“He’s a dirty pitcher — he’s got a nasty curveball,” said Cody Stevenson, a sophomore centerfielder. “He’ll have you second-guessing yourself on the curveball, his go-to pitch. And if he’s not going to get you with that, he’s going to come and get you with his fastball, because he knows he’ll throw it right past you.”
At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Dooley’s stature hasn’t kept him from intimidating whoever’s in the batter’s box. This season, his first at Webster, Dooley has appeared in a team-high five games and helped the Gorloks to a 7-3 start to the season.
Dooley has posted a miniscule 0.84 ERA and is 2-0 on the season with two saves. He’s struck out 10 batters, walked three and kept opponents to a .139 batting average. Dooley has given up only one earned run in nearly 11 innings of work.
“As a relief pitcher, you have to get ahead of hitters,” Dooley said. “My mindset is that these guys aren’t going to hit me. You have to be somewhat cocky and arrogant to be a closer, because you come in in close games. There’s not many innings left, so there’s no room for error.”
As error-free as Dooley has been for the Gorloks, it wasn’t always guaranteed that he would be able to pitch for Webster — or any team — this season. Dooley had to undergo ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, better known as Tommy John surgery, during October 2009. The surgery repaired Dooley’s right elbow, which had been seriously bothering him for about six months.
Dooley had been able to pitch through the pain during his ‘09 summer season of club ball, but when the fall season started later that year, the injury became unbearable. When Dooley threw his first bullpen session in the fall for Florissant Valley Community College’s team, he said he was pitching five to six miles per hour slower than usual.
“I went to the doctor, and he gave me the choice of a cortisone shot or opening it up and seeing if anything was wrong,” Dooley said. “I chose the surgery just because if it was torn, then the cortisone shot wouldn’t help it much at all. I would have wasted a month or two on that. Whenever they actually cut it open, they said it looked like it had torn in half, tried to repair itself, then tore in half again. They replaced it with a cadaver’s hamstring.”
Dooley said the surgery went smoothly, and he was able to begin rehabbing his arm in November 2009. He attended therapy, which consisted of mostly strengthening exercises, three times a week from November through June 2010. After transferring from Florissant Valley to Webster, Dooley threw three innings in an October 2010 scrimmage against the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which marked the first time he had pitched in a game setting since the surgery.
“Up until that, throwing bullpens, I was scared to actually let it go and let loose just because I didn’t know what was going to happen when I did,” Dooley said. “Getting back on the mound was pretty awesome.”
Dooley, a computer science major, said he transferred to Webster in large part because the head coach at Florissant Valley, Brian Behrens, was hired as an assistant coach at Webster after Florissant Valley’s baseball program was cut last year. Behrens and Webster coach Bill Kurich asked Dooley to come to Webster, even though he had redshirted the previous season because of the surgery.
Dooley has become more comfortable throwing his hardest as Webster’s season has progressed.
“Coming off Tommy John, I’ve done pretty good,” Dooley said. “I feel like there’s much room for improvement, speed-wise and location-wise. I knew that my first year back is pretty much going to be a building year. It’s good that I have two more years after this to play. This year is just for me to get back in the swing of things and figure out my mechanics again.”
Stevenson said when the Gorloks are ahead late in games, the team knows who is going to get the ball. He added that playing defense when Dooley is pitching is easy.
“He’s been very good,” Stevenson said. “We know when we get ahead, he’s going to be coming in. I know he’s going to throw strikes and he’s going to keep that mentality up that he’s going to get these batters out. I don’t have to worry about doing much. If the batter does end up hitting his pitch, it’s going to be a high pop-up. They’re not going to be able to hit him solid.”
Dooley said he began playing baseball as soon as he could walk. He participated in other sports growing up, but baseball was the one that stuck.
Randy Dooley, Steven Dooley’s father, said his son always wants to be on the mound when the game is on the line.
“One of the things I’ve always admired about him is that he wants the ball in the big game,” Randy Dooley said. “He knows he can compete with anyone. There were times in his career where he would let the coach know he wanted the ball or he wanted to stay in the game. And usually, he was successful. People talk about natural talent, and I’m not sure that exists because I’ve seen how hard Steven has worked to get to where he is.”
Randy Dooley and Stevenson agreed that, off the baseball diamond, Steven Dooley can be quiet at first. But once he gets going, he’s hard to stop.
“He’s a quiet guy — it’s hard to get him to talk,” Stevenson said. “But once he gets talking, he’s going to be saying funny stuff. He’s the silent comedian, I guess you could say.”
Steven Dooley said this year’s baseball team has the look of a squad that can make a run if it reaches the NCAA Division III postseason tournament. Webster will have to win the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship first, and the Gorloks begin SLIAC play later this week.
“Our main goal is the national championship,” Steven Dooley said. “We need to play to our full capability. We have the guys that can hit, we have a good pitching staff and I think if we get it all figured out, we can go far.”