The Senator talks baseball

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The Senator talks baseball

Professor Bill Doyle

Professor Bill Doyle

Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

Professor Bill Doyle

Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

Professor Bill Doyle

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For 50 years, Senator and Professor William Doyle has played a remarkable role at Johnson State College, bringing government to generations of students and many of those students to government, and at the Vermont Statehouse.

On May 7, the college will honor him with a celebration of his leadership and legacy at 3:30 p.m. in JSC’s Stearns Dining Hall. At that time, he will also be conferred the status Professor Emeritus.

A man of many passions, Doyle is well known throughout the state of Vermont for his lengthy careers in government and public education. [As was noted in the Feb. 8 issue of Basement Medicine, generations of students have borne witness to his influence on them, encouraging a life of political service many have chosen over the years.]

Not so well known, perhaps, is this man’s singular devotion to “the great American pastime”: baseball. On a recent Friday, this reporter sat down with Doyle at his home in Montpelier thinking the talk would be of education and politics.

The Senator, however, mostly had baseball on his mind, certainly another harbinger of spring.

“When I meet new people for the first time, I always ask them if they played sports, and if so, what sports,” said Doyle. “It allows me to establish an immediate personal connection, and if they say baseball, it usually became a long conversation.”

Doyle credits his father, who was a pitcher at Dartmouth college, for spawning his interest in the sport during his formative years. “Next to my childhood home on Brooklyn Boulevard in Seagirt, New Jersey, there was an empty lot about a block long where my father and all of the men in town made a baseball field called ‘Doyle’s Field,’” he said. “They played pretty good baseball there and I would always watch from my window. I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.”

Following his father’s example, Doyle went on to play for his local little league and school teams, while also becoming a diehard fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. “I’ve always been a Dodgers fan, they’ve given me so many memories, although my heart broke when they moved to Los Angeles,” he said. “My father would take me to their games in Brooklyn. I got to see Jackie Robinson play in-person and he stole home. We also went to a New York Yankees world series game, which was a tremendous experience for me.”

During his teenage years, Doyle further exemplified his father by organizing a summer softball league in Seagirt. “We had no money, but we played on the sand at the beach in town and I was very proud of the fact that we did it by ourselves,” he said. “The sand was actually nice because it made for easy sliding. Eventually, we were able to graduate to ‘Doyle Field’ and we would play something like 35 games a summer.”

“The highlight for me was when Dodger’s shortstop Pee Wee Reese and first baseman Gil Hodges came to one of our games, who, even though they were famous, still chose to live in the community,” said Doyle. “After the game they came up to us and said, ‘you got a pretty good team.’ Hearing that from those two is about as good as it gets.”

Eventually Doyle had to leave Seagirt and his summer softball league behind, but wherever he went he resolved to keep baseball in his life. “During my time as an undergraduate at Princeton University I played on the college’s junior varsity team,” he said. “Once I stopped playing and became a teacher, I coached little league and avidly supported the Johnson State College baseball team when we had one. I went to all of the games. I really liked the coach and he would let me ride the bus with the team to all of the away games and we would talk about the lineup. Following the team let me get to know the students even better.”

In addition to the Dodgers, Doyle became a fan of the Twin-City Trojans, a collegiate summer league team who later became the Vermont Mountaineers and played close to his home in Montpelier.

Unbeknownst to him, this decision would lead to a friendship with baseball Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts, the organizations most significant alum.

“I got to know Robin and his wife quite well over the years,” he said. “When they would come from Florida for Mountaineer’s events each year we would go to the movies and then for ice cream.”

Although his Dodgers abandoned him in 1957, Doyle’s fandom remains steadfast.

He proudly watched them get within a game of winning the world series last year and hopes they can return and avenge that loss this season during his first year of retirement.

When he’s not watching his favorite team, he likes to watch Ken Burns’ documentary mini-series “Baseball” to get his fix.

If you wish to attend, RSVP by May 1 at jsc.edu/Senator Doyle or by emailing Cecilia.North@jsc.edu.

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