Drawing on his days as a college and amateur league baseball star, Sam Shane, host of MSNBC Live on weekdays from 12 Noon ET to 4 p.m. ET, is releasing his first book, "Rocky the Mudhen."
Self-published and illustrated by Dan Marso, the book is meant to help kids cope with both the successes and failures of team sports. Shane, whose straight delivery has become a staple of MSNBC's newscasts, once played second base for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and later for a traveling team in Minnesota's Town Team baseball league.
Shane answered a few questions about the book and what it’s like anchoring at MSNBC.
Tell us about “Rocky the Mudhen.”
SAM SHANE, AUTHOR: Town Team Baseball was the inspiration for the book. Minnesota has all these small towns, and all these towns have their own ballparks and teams.
The book is about this young guy named Rocky who had a dream to play for the Mighty Miesville Mudhens. Rocky gets asked to join the team and goes through the summer learning the game. He is joined by some very interesting characters, including Here-we-go, Skipper, Hobo Joe, Hairball, and The Bomber.
Rocky learns about baseball, including its jargon. We wanted to draw readers into the game and learn words like “seed,” “dinger” and “ice-cream cone,” which we defined in the book for both kids and parents.
He pays his dues: fills the water jugs, mows the grass. Eventually he gets to play in a game. Rocky gets into the game, but not without his failures. Without giving anything away, we wanted to send a message to kids on how the game of baseball parallels life. We believe it’s very important for children to understand that failure is a very big part of life. Baseball is a game of failure— the most successful hitter fails seven out of ten times. You have to learn how to deal with failure in baseball in order to be a success. The same holds true in real life.
What message do you want readers to take away?
Too often, parents pressure kids to succeed, and don’t teach them how to cope with failure. How you cope with failure determines how you deal with success down the line.
That said, I had a reporter ask me if that meant I thought we shouldn’t keep score in children’s game, which some parents think. I think that's a terrible idea. Kids know who's winning and losing.
Plus, real life is about winners and losers. In November's election there will be a winner and there will be a loser. That’s life. Kids need to learn to deal with that. They need to learn to be a graceful and humble winner and learn how to lose as well.
There are great aspects of your childhood that you will never forget. For me, it was Little League baseball. It helped me develop a sense of team, and it allowed me to go on and do other things.
What is the most important thing sports taught you?
SHANE: I firmly believe that people who understand the team concept and sacrifice, at the end of the day, are more successful.
Whether you’re a great teacher, or a broadcaster, or a politician, if you understand what a team is and what hardwork is all about, you are more successful at the end of the day. People should learn that you have to work your way up a ladder, and that there are dues to be paid. You just don’t become the CEO of General Electric. You have to take a lot of steps to get there, if that’s what your goal is.
So many stories that we report are of kids who have gone bad, kids who feel that they’re entitled. And it’s not just kids, it’s adults. This sense of entitlement is bewildering to me. I think it’s important to know that people don’t just hand you stuff, you have to earn it.
What do you think about athletes in the news today? Too often, it’s athletes like Jayson Williams and Kobe Bryant.
SHANE: I think this is very unfortunate and I’m very saddened by that, as well by steroid use in major league baseball, or hockey players getting extremely violent.
The fact of the matter is sports figures are very good people. I do think they are reflection of society and that there are going to be some bad apples— just as there are in the corporate world and politics.
Look at what’s happening in the military right now [referring to the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib]. That is not indicative of all the people serving in the military. We have to keep that in perspective.
So we wanted to take this book and remind people of all the goods things and what we love about the game.
Did you ever consider being a sportscaster instead of a news anchor?
SHANE: When I came out of college, I thought I was going to be a sportscaster. I interned at KARE11 in Minneapolis in the sports department. But the reality of the business is that there are news jobs than sports, but I don’t regret my decision to go into news whatsoever.
There are still aspects of sports that I truly enjoy, like college athletics at playoff time— amateur athletics is sports in its purest, rawest form. When I see these remarkable feats in sports, I’m just fascinated.
Do you think MSNBC should cover more sports?
SHANE:Not particularly. ESPN does a great job with it, and if you want to watch just sports, you can go there. We have the Olympics on MSNBC, and we cover the big stories. We reported on Randy Johnson throwing a perfect game last week. If it's something extraordinary, we'll cover it.
Writing fiction and doing news must be completely different.
SHANE: Yes, it’s a completely different realm. This is my first attempt at writing creative fiction.
We wanted the characters to have a personality. I looked at some of the great animated storylines out there— like Dr. Seuss, which you can pick up at any age, 5 or 15, and still enjoy. Think about the great movies like Shrek, Finding Nemo, or Aladdin, you can see that they have great characters that you believe.
And anybody who’s been around baseball players know that they’re all characters— the craziest, funniest guys you’ll ever meet in your life.
We also tried to tell a story that the parents enjoyed reading as well. That was the challenge, and hopefully we met it.
We heard that you’re going to donate some of the proceeds to organizations that help children’s illiteracy and obesity.
SHANE: We are determined to use some of the money to fight both of those causes. As human beings, we have a tendency to become sedentary and lazy. We really need to read more with our kids and exercise more with our kids.
When I give interviews about the book, I try to suggest ways to help solve these problems. For instance, we can set aside time with our kids at dinner to either talk about something we read, or read something out loud. Families can also go out and walk together for twenty minutes.
Our goal is to focus on children and make them get into this habit of constantly reading and exercising, and making this a habit in their life.
For more on "Rocky The Mudhen: We’re Talking Baseball" go to Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or . Catch Sam Shane on MSNBC Live, weekdays from 12 to 4 p.m. ET.