Like many other Minor League ballplayers, Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand Tony Mansolino supplements his baseball income by working at a wide variety of jobs during the offseason.
In recent months, the 25-year-old Vanderbilt product has put in long hours as a caterer, private hitting instructor and substitute teacher, while also spending ample time at the gym in preparation for the 2008 season. In addition to these pursuits, however, Mansolino has an entry on his lengthy work resume that few, if any, Minor League players can also claim: Children's book author.
Mansolino is currently putting the finishing touches on his debut, a true-to-life and ultimately inspiring Minor League tale entitled "Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go." The story focuses on the saga of Rock Rogers, a 12-year veteran of professional baseball who is still fighting to make it to "The Show." The book was written throughout the course of the 2007 season, which Mansolino spent with the Class A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats.
"I think I drove my teammates nuts with this," said Mansolino, a versatile utility infielder and designated hitter who made his professional debut in 2005. "They'd all want to play cards or something, but I'd just be working on my book. Some of the scenes were based on events that took place during the season, and in some cases I creatively inserted things into the story based on conversations I had with my teammates."
"A lot of guys laughed when they first heard I was doing this, but that changed as the book evolved and it was apparent that this was something I was passionate and serious about. I ended up getting a lot of support."
Mansolino's unorthodox decision to write a children's book first came about last winter.
"It was the offseason, and snowing outside, and as usual I was thinking about ways to supplement my income," recalled Mansolino. "I've always been a good writer, and at that time David Eckstein was coming out with his book ["Have Heart"] and I started thinking, 'You know, that's a really good idea.'"
"My Dad [Houston Astros third base coach Doug Mansolino] helped me get in touch with Eckstein, who really helped me out early on and was able to offer a lot of suggestions."
From these beginnings, Mansolino took a decidedly "do-it-yourself" approach to putting the book together.
"Basically, I didn't know what I was doing at first. I would stay up all night reading message boards, and I spent a lot of time cold-calling people at publishing companies, trying to pick their brains. Some people would flat-out hang up on me, but others were very kind and helpful."
Mansolino's nose-to-the-grindstone approach ended up paying off for him. He established his own publishing company, recruited Memphis-based artist Lauren Tague to provide the illustrations and secured promotional quotes from a current Hall of Famer (Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell) as well as a future one (recently retired Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio).
Additionally, a portion of the book's proceeds will benefit the Bruce Kaye Brain Tumor Foundation, an organization whose motto -- "In passionate pursuit of what's possible" -- could very well serve as Rock Rogers' personal credo.
Mansolino is currently in the final stages of this ambitious project, and plans on releasing "Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go" at the end of January. With ample illustrations and text that consists of rhyming couplets, the book should appeal to children as young as five years old. Mansolino, however, still strived to craft a story that truly captured the Minor League experience, one that illuminated the amount of toil, hardship and sacrifice necessary to succeed.
"One thing I've learned from substitute teaching at elementary schools is that kids are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for," he said. "So that informed my thinking as I went into this, knowing that I had to respect their intelligence and create something that was somewhat challenging."
"What I want the story of Rock Rogers to convey is just how few Minor League players are able to make it to the big leagues and stick. For most guys, it would mean so much just to play there for one day. Just being there would fulfill a dream and would prove that all those years in the Minors really accomplished something. I know that's how I feel."