By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Sean Doolittle played baseball at the University of Virginia, his teammates and coaches called him “Doc.” If all goes as planned for UVa outfielder Colin Harrington, that may be his nickname one day, too.
Harrington, who has started 22 games for the Cavaliers this season, is a chemistry major who hopes to attend medical school and, eventually, become an orthopedic surgeon.
“It’s just kind of always been a dream of mine, since I was younger,” Harrington said recently at Davenport Field.
His courses this semester include organic chemistry, physics and a biology lab, and juggling baseball with his academic obligations is no small task for this native of Johnstown, Pa.
“It’s really tough, especially in the fall,” said Harrington, who carries a 3.2 grade-point average.
He takes fewer credit hours during the season, so he loads up on classes during the fall semester. A conflict with a lab forced him to miss practice every Wednesday this past fall, Harrington said. The coaching staff is understanding when such situations arise.
“I’m proud that he’s doing academically what he truly wants to do,” head coach Brian O’Connor said. “This game only lasts so long, and he’s a very, very bright, intelligent kid, and I want him to be able to pursue his dreams from an academic standpoint, too.”
A third-year academically, the 5-10, 190-pound Harrington redshirted for the Wahoos in 2010, so he will have two years of athletic eligibility remaining when this season ends. Which means he may still be wearing a UVa uniform and competing as a graduate student in 2014.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of variables that are going to go into that decision,” Harrington said. “I would love to stay here five years. I still have to explore my options with that fifth year, but a lot of it would probably be preparing for the [Medical College Admission Test].”
At Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Harrington was valedictorian of his graduating class. He also was a star baseball player who attracted the attention of Kevin McMullan, Virginia’s associate head coach.
“Coach Mac had seen him,” O’Connor said, “and then I went and visited with him and his mom in Johnstown at his home, and you could tell very quickly that Colin was very driven, very focused on being a great student. He took a lot of pride in it. He’s very, very competitive on the baseball field, too. He’s a competitor.”
At Bishop McCort, Harrington played in the infield. “Because of the depth we had there the last couple years,” O’Connor said, “we converted him to the outfield and taught him how to be an outfielder.”
In 2011, Harrington started 13 of the 28 games in which he appeared — usually against left-handed pitchers — and hit .353 to help the ‘Hoos advance to the College World Series for the first time in three seasons.
“Obviously, my first year here, when I redshirted, was a great learning experience, and then last year I kind of eased my way into [the lineup],” Harrington said.
“It was great. I was so excited just to be getting out there and playing. I think I was just very mentally prepared, because the first year I saw how hard and tough the season was on guys and how they managed their time. I think I was ready for that opportunity.”
This season, he’s played in all but three games and is hitting .289. In the field, he’s made only one error.
“Coming into this year I expected to be starting almost every game, being an everyday guy, and I think I’ve kind of succeeded in doing so,” Harrington said. “I was struggling a little bit at the beginning of the year, and it meant a lot to me that Coach still had the faith in me to put me in the lineup, and I think now I’m starting to hit my stride. I was happy for the opportunity, but I expected it. I worked really hard in the offseason and this summer.”
O’Connor said: “He’s just a tough, clutch player. He’s very difficult to strike out. He’s going to do the things offensively that we need him to do for our team to win.”
His schedule hasn’t allowed Harrington to shadow members of UVa’s medical staff, but during his college career he’s been treated for a wrist injury by Dr. Bobby Chhabra and for a shoulder problem by Dr. Eric Carson.
Also, Harrington said, when he sees teammates “in the training room, I’ll ask them how they’re feeling. I kind of like to be in there, not for treatment, but just to see how [athletic trainer] Brian McGuire‘s treating guys or what he’s doing for shoulder pain or what he’s doing for this or what he’s doing for that. So I get almost a hands-on learning experience just by watching.”
Harrington said he’s “always wanted to help people, and I always wanted to be a doctor, for some reason, and I feel like orthopedics would help me stay around baseball and sports. I always wanted to be around sports. I don’t think I could be away from the game of baseball.”
He was talking a few hours before UVa met Towson in a non-conference game at Davenport Field. His biggest challenge, Harrington said, is time management.
“Without any doubt,” he said. “Even like today. You wake up, have breakfast, then classes, then lunch, then you come right over here. So you’re here from 1:30 to probably 8:30. Then you have supper and what not. You really have to learn to manage your time. You really gotta get the most out of the hours of the day, just so you’re not up [late].”
When he gets home after a game, schoolwork is sometimes the last thing Harrington wants to do. But to reach his goals, he knows, he has to keep grinding.
“If we win, I’m always in a better mood, so it makes studying a little easier,” Harrington said. “But it’s tough after a loss. You kind of just want to go to bed and wake up tomorrow. But you gotta do what you gotta do.”