When Orioles pitching ace Mike Mussina packs his suitcases for a road trip, he's certain to toss in a few good books for some pre- and post-game reading -- perhaps the latest horror tale from Stephen King, a Tom Clancy thriller and an intriguing science fiction novel.
"When I go to the bookstore, I look at the science fiction section for whatever is new, and then I always end up in the sports section," said Mussina, who is serving this year as spokesman for the Orioles Summer Reading Program for children.
"I like to see if there are any new biographies because I like to read about people who have done what I'm lucky enough to be able to do," the 30-year-old right-hander said. Recently, he enjoyed a biography of Walter Johnson, the legendary Washington Senators pitcher.
"He was one of the best ever, and you don't get a chance to read much about him," he said.
"I don't consider myself to be an avid reader," said Mussina. "But do I always have a book that I'm working on? The answer is yes. And I read the paper every day. Reading is good exercise. It's brain exercise."
Reading has been a part of Mussina's life since his childhood in small-town Pennsylvania. (Born in Williamsport, he is a graduate of Montoursville High School.) He remembers the silly rhymes of Dr. Seuss, and later the Star Trek and Star Wars books that sparked his lasting interest in science fiction.
He favored stories about boy detectives solving mysteries and eagerly awaited publication of new books in series such as Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys. Familiar characters in these and other series help children become comfortable with books, and that encourages them to read more, Mussina said.
"In a series, there's always another story to look forward to," Mussina said. "It's just like adults who are just waiting for the next book by a favorite author."
Reading wasn't the only pastime of the young Mussina. He spent a lot of time playing outdoors -- shooting baskets, playing Wiffle Ball and dreaming about growing up to be a baseball player, just like any other kid.
"I wasn't a bookworm," he said. "But reading was fun for me. It wasn't a grind."
Mussina and his wife, Jana, have two children -- Kyra, 9 1/2, and Brycen, who celebrated his first birthday last week. Brycen is busy with his newly acquired walking skills and doesn't have a lot of time for reading yet, Mussina said. Kyra likes to read books from the Spice Girls and Barbie series.
"I don't think it matters what they read as long as they're reading something," he said. "I want my children to be interested enough in reading so that it doesn't feel like work. I don't want to have to say, 'You owe me 15 minutes.' I want them to say, 'Hey, I'm going to read.' "
There is no "magic formula" for getting children interested in reading, said Mussina, a Stanford University graduate with a degree in economics. "You just have to expose them to it. If they're successful readers, they're going to want to read more."
The Orioles Summer Reading Program, sponsored by The Sun, encourages Maryland youngsters to read during the summer. About 20 top readers from across the state will be honored at a pregame ceremony Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.