From the time Michael Doolin was 8 years old, he wanted to win two state championships — not just one.
It's the earliest goal he remembers having. He had few designs on making it to the major leagues or even playing college ball. Instead, he wanted to match or surpass his brother Matt, who won back-to-back state titles as Andrean's first baseman in 2009 and 2010.
Michael Doolin, eight years Matt's junior, accompanied the family to Indianapolis when his older sister, Meagan attended Butler. When the Doolins drove by Victory Field, Michael said he would play in the state championship one day.
Years later, Michael Doolin has accomplished that goal and more. The two-time state champion evolved into a high-level pro prospect and will play for the reigning national champion Vanderbilt Commodores next year.
Michael Doolin's relationship with Matt is a big reason for his success on the mound. After a historic year, Michael Doolin accomplished his lifelong goal and is The Times Player of the Year for the second straight season.
“Since I was 8, that's kind of what I always worked for,” Michael Doolin said. “So we always talked about, last year he would say, 'Hey, you're still one short of me,' and we would joke around at the house. It's nice to finally be able to even it up.”
When Matt Doolin played for Andrean, Michael hung around practices serving as ball boy, chasing foul balls or even tossing a ball off the dugout wall. He had a front-row seat for the 59ers' second and third baseball state titles, and coach Dave Pishkur said Michael Doolin's investment in the team made him a smarter player than most when he entered the program in 2015.
Due to the age difference, Matt Doolin took an active role in Michael's baseball development. Instead of leaving the task to his parents, Fenton and Theresa, Matt chauffeured Michael to Dave Griffin's Baseball School in Griffith and NWI Sports Performance in Crown Point for hundreds of hours of hitting and pitching.
He also coached Michael Doolin a bit himself. This past season, Matt Doolin joined Andrean as a full-fledged assistant coach in the dugout. Whenever Michael needed guidance, Matt knew exactly what to say. The two engage in plenty of lighthearted banter — for instance, Michael Doolin wants his brother to know that he's Pishkur's favorite Doolin.
“We're constantly talking baseball, so it really wasn't that big of an adjustment for me,” Matt Doolin said. “He may say it was a little different, but it was fun to be in the dugout for his last year of high school and get to watch up close what he does. I know he trusts my opinion in baseball a lot, so I'm sure there were times throughout the year when he just needed someone to let him know it's gonna be OK or bring him back down to earth, and I was more than willing to do that.”
As Michael Doolin approached high-school age, he became enamored with Vanderbilt. The Commodores won the 2014 College World Series with future first-round picks like Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer, and Michael Doolin told Matt it was his dream school.
Vanderbilt has owned the nation's No. 1 recruiting class four of the past five years, according to Perfect Game, and Matt Doolin told Michael that it was unlikely he would be good enough to grab the program's attention.
Then, Michael Doolin grew about eight inches in a roughly 18-month span and added significant velocity to his fastball. The 2017 Class 4A Chesterton sectional championship game against the host Trojans changed Matt Doolin's thinking. Michael Doolin led Andrean to a 4-3 victory against a Chesterton team that featured multiple Division I-bound players.
Michael Doolin said it's one of a handful of games he'll remember for the rest of his life. He and Matt Doolin pinpointed it as a turning point in his career.
“For the most part, he dominated that game,” Matt Doolin said. “I think at that point in time it kind of clicked in my head that maybe there is something here. But he's always been very good. I never knew he was gonna be SEC good.”
By the summer of 2017, college coaches swarmed Michael Doolin's bullpen session at a Georgia showcase he attended with his travel team, the Indiana Bulls. When Vanderbilt offered during Michael Doolin's visit to Nashville that summer, the family had barely returned to the car when a call came in from Sam Samardzija Jr., an agent and the brother of Jeff Samardzija.
Before they knew it, Michael Doolin had become an MLB prospect.
“It became very obvious that he was a lot better than we had even imagined he was,” Theresa Doolin said.
The Doolins met with various advisers over dinner and eventually settled on Chris Amezquita as MLB interest started to heat up. Michael and Fenton Doolin met with the Texas Rangers twice, but more teams got serious around the draft in June, after Michael Doolin finished off a 14-0 season with a 0.46 ERA and was named Gatorade Indiana Baseball Player of the Year.
With Michael Doolin projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, the family huddled with Amezquita to decide what signing bonus they wanted for Michael to forgo college. Fenton Doolin said the family wanted “first-round money,” while Michael Doolin mentioned $5 to $6 million as a target.
Median slot value for the first round was about $3 million this year, per Baseball America.
Fenton Doolin said the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks all called Amezquita on draft day to gauge interest, but they weren't willing to offer enough.
Intrigue rose when Chicago Cubs called. The Doolins are big Cubs fans — and ultimately turned down their favorite team. Michael and Matt Doolin said they were at least 95% sure Michael wouldn't sign, so he went undrafted.
“In the back of my head, I kind of knew that no matter what happened, I think Vandy was the best place for me as a student and then the future of baseball, as well,” Michael Doolin said. “I knew if I went to Vandy, I could get significantly better and even raise that cap higher when I'm a junior.”
With the draft behind him, Michael Doolin leaves Sunday for Nashville, where he won't have Matt around on a regular basis. He'll start classes and workouts at the school he has wanted to attend for years, and with Vanderbilt's national title defense on his mind.
Michael Doolin's family and friends may have to watch most of his games on their laptops instead of from the stands. But every time he takes the field, Matt Doolin's influence will be on display.
“He has been my most constant coach, almost my second dad when it comes to baseball,” Michael Doolin said. “He does everything for me. So having someone like that with the experience that he has, it helped me a lot.”