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The Spin

Book #2 of Marcus Stroman

About The Book

In this second book in the semi-autobiographical middle grade series from MLB pitcher Marcus Stroman, young Marcus continues to learn hard lessons on and off the baseball field.

Everyone knows Marcus Stroman as a baseball player. He loves the sport, and yes, he probably has a shot at the pros. But “baseball player” doesn’t totally define him. Why won’t anyone also see him as a basketball player or a musician? While he loves being known for what he does well, he’s struggling because people are trying to limit him to just one thing.

Literally how high up a mountain does Marcus need to climb to be completely free of what everyone else sees? How can he protect himself from the online zings, the chatter, and the opinions? When you walk out on the field or that court, how much criticism is fair play? With some perspective from a new view, Marcus realizes that no matter what field, court, or classroom he’s in, he has to block some shots.


Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1

I bounce a basketball down the hall on my way downstairs.

“Marcus!” cries my mother as I round the corner to the kitchen. “Have mercy and stop that inside the house!”

I shoot the ball into a basket that holds shoes by the door.

“Nice shot,” says my older sister, Sabria, who is already at the table, dunking French toast into syrup.

I sit down next to her.

“Marcus, that ball bouncing everywhere is echoing through the house,” says Mom. “It’s kind of early for that noise, okay?”

“It’s the sound of a basketball!” I say. “That kind of noise is perfect all day long!”

My mother groans. “I need more coffee first.”

Mom pauses to pick up her mug as she makes sandwiches. Now that I’m in middle school, my mother has decided that she shouldn’t pack my whole lunch. She makes the main part, like a sandwich or pasta, and I have to put in either a piece of fruit or a vegetable and a dessert. I tried to sneak in an extra bag of cookies once, but she checks my lunch every day. When I stay at my dad’s house, his thinking is that it’s my lunch and I should just take care of it. He doesn’t care if I pack an entire bag of Cheetos and call it a day.

“Okay, schedules for the day,” Mom says, looking at her phone as my sister and I shoot each other a look. Mom is always focused on schedules. She has charts all over the place listing each kid’s activities, practices, and games, and who’s doing drop-off or pickup. Now that my parents are divorced, it’s a daily thing to go over who’ll be there to shuttle everyone around and where we’re staying each night, since we go back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. Because both of my parents work and because my sports schedules can get a little wild, we don’t do one week at Mom’s and then one week at Dad’s. We switch around a lot, so it makes everything a little bananas.

Even though it’s been a while, I’m still getting used to having two houses and two bedrooms. I still don’t like it, but the fact is, my parents are divorced, and nothing is going to change that. I’ve accepted it, but I still sometimes get really mad that we don’t all live together. The worst, to me, is toting a bag between houses, because there are some things I only have one of, like my game-day baseball glove, and I have to cart that around. Once, Sabria totally lost it and screamed, “I live out of a bag, and I don’t have a home anymore!”

Mom and Dad freaked a little after that, but they sat us down and explained that we now have two houses and two homes but we’re still a part of one family. Which we understand, mostly. But still, if you leave a favorite pair of sneakers at one house, then realize two days later that you want to wear them… you’re out of luck. That makes me mad.

“Marcus, you have basketball after school,” says Mom, reading off her chart. “And Sabria is babysitting next door for the twins. Sabria, you’ll take the bus home, then walk over there. Marcus, you will stay for practice. Your dad will pick you up and bring you here since I have to work late. You will both be here for dinner and sleep here tonight.” Mom nods at the chart. She seems pleased that today is a relatively easy day. Things can get a little out of hand when both Mom and Dad are working nights, especially if both of us kids also have evening activities.

“Homework all done?” asks Mom, eyeing the two of us. Mom and Dad are both strict about homework. Sometimes Dad will let me do homework while I watch a game, but Mom never does. She believes in concentrating.

“But if I can do homework and watch a game, isn’t that better?” I sometimes ask. “I’m getting practice at doing two things at once. I mean, that has to be better than sitting here only doing one thing, right?”

“No,” Mom will say. “There are some things that should have your full attention. Do you want me to drive and make dinner? That would cause a major accident. I’d either crash the car or burn down the house.”

I roll my eyes. “That’s a fairly crazy example, Mom,” I say.

“Would Dad let you break your concentration with baseball practice to play a video game at the same time?” she asks.

I actually laugh at the thought of that. Dad is hard-core about baseball training. Dad is hard-core about a lot of things, but really hard-core about my baseball training. Every morning, I practice with Dad, doing drills, throwing, and doing exercises to keep me strong and nimble. If I even try to chat with Dad during practice, he’ll rumble back at me.

Thankfully, I did my homework last night. I’m good about doing it, even if I don’t always like it or if I’m pretty tired after a game or a practice. The truth? I don’t mind school. I like learning new stuff and challenging myself. But most kids don’t go around saying that they love school. I might complain about homework, but I always do it. I’m competitive in all things—on courts, on fields, and in classrooms.

Sabria gives me some side-eye. “You know you have a project coming up,” she says.

I scowl back since Sabria is always stepping in my business. “I do,” I say. “But we haven’t even started on it in class. How did you know?”

“I heard you talking about it,” says Sabria.

I give her a look. Somehow Sabria manages to “overhear” a lot of stuff. I’m about to accuse her of reading my texts when my mother says, “Marcus, what’s the project about?”

“We aren’t even supposed to start it yet,” I say again, a little huffy. “Don’t worry, Mom. I know, I know, school is important.”

“It is,” says Mom evenly. “But I’m also interested in what you’re working on.”

“It’s for media studies,” I say. “It’s about why you need multiple news sources to fully understand something. And how you have to look at all the information and then make an informed conclusion for yourself.”

“It was boring when we did that unit,” says Sabria. Ah, so maybe she wasn’t eavesdropping. Maybe she just remembers taking the same class.

“It doesn’t sound boring at all!” says Mom. “And it’s a very important skill to have. You need to understand what you’re reading and understand how you’re getting information!”

I smirk at my sister as I slurp down my French toast. Older sisters who always have to be right can be so annoying.

“Okay, let’s go, kids,” says Mom, glancing at the clock.

Mom or Dad drives us to school instead of making us take the bus, which is fine with me because standing outside at a bus stop does not seem fun, even in perfect weather. Sabria goes to high school, which she thinks is totally cool. It is, but she always complains about how much homework she has, so I’m in no rush to get there.

Dad likes to be focused in the morning, checking in on the news and what our goals are for the day. Mom is a lot more chatty, which can be good, but sometimes I just like it quiet.

We gather up our backpacks and lunches and head toward the car. Sabria gets to the front seat first. I shrug and throw my bag into the back and slide in. If I’m in the back seat, I can kind of just tune everything out, and this morning I’m tired. I already had my daily baseball practice with Dad, and my arm is a little sore. Plus, Dad has me working on core strength and lifting weights. I do a lot even before school starts in the morning.

My dad and I practice every single morning, in the rain, in the cold, even in the snow. No weekends off. Dad thinks I have real talent for baseball and if I work hard and practice, I have a shot at being a pro player. While that sounds kind of cool, the truth is, I’m not totally sure I want to be a professional baseball player. For practically my entire life everyone has said, “Wow, that kid can play” when I’m on the baseball field. It’s not that I don’t like baseball; I love baseball. But I don’t like people deciding things for me. I want some choices, and if I feel like I can work hard and be great at more than baseball, why wouldn’t I at least try?

I also love basketball. It’s an awesome game, and I practice hard and am pretty decent on the court. I don’t feel the same pressure with basketball, because there isn’t this expectation of, Oh, here comes Marcus Stroman. He’s supposed to be the best basketball player. No one says that. And that’s cool. It makes me want to be a better basketball player. Maybe I can be a professional basketball player, even if everyone always tells me I’m not tall enough to play.

I must be more zoned out than I realized, because the sound of the car door slamming startles me. I watch Sabria walking up the path to her school as my mother’s gaze follows her. Mom always waits until we’re at the door to the school, which makes me half smile and half roll my eyes. Mom isn’t afraid we won’t actually go in. She just likes to see us get to the door. Mom watches Sabria pull open the main door to the school, then slowly leaves the drop-off lane, glancing at me in the rearview mirror.

As I sit in the car, I’m doing this new thing Gary taught me. Gary is my mental-health coach. A mental-health coach is like a coach for your head, the inside part. Gary helps me process how I feel about things and is helping me see how I react to them too. Sometimes I get really tense or nervous, and Gary shows me how to relax and feel a little looser. It’s important in life, but it’s also important on the field or the court, when sometimes I really tense up, and as my dad says, I get stuck in my head.

When my dad used to say I was stuck inside my head, I always had an image of myself literally stuck inside my head, crawling on my hands and knees. It was kind of funny, but it isn’t funny at all when things really rattle you.

Gary taught me this game I can use when I get really upset or stressed or stuck. It’s called the Senses game because you use all five senses, and, yes, we laugh because it sounds like a game you’d play in preschool, but it really works. You have to look around you and find five things to see, four things to hear, three things to smell, two things to feel, and one thing that would taste good. Sometimes Gary shuffles them around so it’s five things to smell or four things to feel. It makes you look around to see where you are and take it in.

If I’m stressed at a baseball game, I can smell the grass, feel the sun, hear crowds chanting (or booing). The cool thing is that while you’re doing it, you really notice things you might not normally notice. Once, I had to name five things I smelled at a baseball game, and I realized how much I could smell beyond grass. At one game I smelled the newly cut grass, sure, but I also smelled hot dogs grilling in the park behind the field, the dirt, sweat (gross but true), and I swore I smelled cologne. For a while after that I wondered which teammate had been wearing cologne to a game.

To be honest, I sometimes do the Senses game when I’m just hanging out, like a mind puzzle. It grounds me.

My school is just down the street from Sabria’s, so Mom slows the car a few minutes later. “Okay, love,” she says, “have a great day!”

“I’ll try,” I say, and slide out, slipping my backpack over my shoulder and giving Mom a wave. Then I hustle inside because having your mom wait while you walk into middle school is getting to be a little embarrassing.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

The Spin

by Marcus Stroman​

About the Book

Marcus Stroman is a middle school student who expects the school year to be full of schedules and responsibility, especially as he juggles a schedule with two sports he loves – baseball and basketball – while keeping up with his schoolwork which, as his parents always remind him, comes first. While Marcus continues to adjust to his parents’ divorce, some parts of his day are consistent. Practicing baseball each morning with his dad is always how he begins his day. After school, it’s time for basketball practice. Marcus is a competitor on and off the field, but can he sustain and improve his athletic ability on both the basketball court and the baseball field? At the same time, Marcus’s class is working on a media literacy assignment and the class will be publishing their own newspaper. While working on his assignment, Marcus realizes that he has a lot to learn about the power of words. He discovers that how people spin their words is just as important as the spin on a ball. But will he realize it before his life spins out of control with social media? How will he handle it when one of those articles is a pretty harsh criticism of his performance on the court?

Discussion Questions

1. Marcus Stroman introduces the book with this quote, “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.” What do you think it means, and how do you think it foreshadows events to come?

2. Mom and Dad have different personalities and parenting styles. It is challenging for Marcus and Sabria to adjust to their new arrangements since their parents are divorced going from house to house, where expectations differ. Discuss the similarities and differences of each parent’s style. Whose style is most similar to what yours would be if you were a parent? Why?

3. Marcus says he’s “competitive in all things—on courts, on fields, and in classrooms.” (Chapter one) Cite evidence from the text supporting this truth about Marcus. Do you think people can be competitive in all facets of their lives, or is it impossible? Explain.

4. Marcus loves both baseball and basketball. He is a good athlete in both sports, but he states that he doesn’t feel the same pressure playing basketball as he does playing baseball. Explain why. Do you ever feel pressured to succeed at something even though your heart is leading you in another direction? Explain.

5. Marcus explains, “But I don’t like people deciding things for me. I want some choices, and if I feel like I can work hard and be great at more than baseball, why wouldn’t I at least try?” (Chapter one) What does this say about Marcus’s character? Do you think this attitude will help Marcus succeed in life? Explain. At the same time, Dad feels differently about Marcus playing basketball and baseball. How does Marcus feel about his father’s attitude, and how does it affect him on and off the playing field?

6. Gary is Marcus’s mental health coach. What is a mental health coach? How does Gary help Marcus? Do you think Marcus enjoys working with Gary or not? How can you tell?

7. Marcus, Kai, and Robbie are considered the “Three Musketeers.” Even though they are best friends and sidekicks, they have different personalities. Describe Kai’s and Robbie’s character traits and how their relationships with Marcus are different. Throughout the story, notice how Kai and Robbie interact with Marcus in various situations. What does this tell us about their friendship?

8. While Marcus is a good basketball player, he knows that his average height is a challenge on the court. He hears people say, “Oh, that shortie isn’t going to be able to play . . .Don’t worry about blocking that one.” (Chapter four) But Marcus surprises them and then hears, “Well, what do you know, that short baseball kid can press the court with the best of them.” Discuss the ways Marcus sees his height as a challenge and his feelings associated with that. Do you have a skill that surprises people? Explain.

9. Sabria and Marcus sometimes have a complicated relationship. Growing up can be challenging. Marcus states, “As annoying as my sister is, she’s the one who’s there, going through the same things I am. She understands a lot of stuff about me that nobody else can.” (Chapter four) Cite evidence that explains their relationship and how they both help, as well as hurt, each other.

10. Dad always expects Marcus to do his best with everything he does. Similarly, Marcus also expects himself to do his best. Gary says that you have to learn to accept that things are not always realistic. What does this mean? How does Marcus feel about this advice? Give examples of how this statement can pertain to your life.

11. Marcus is always trying to prove that basketball means something to him. What are some ways that Marcus does this? Do you think he’s trying to prove this to himself or to others? Explain.

12. Mrs. Tyler is very excited about the big project she has set up for her class. Publishing a newspaper consists of many key roles and decisions. Explain what is needed to set up a newspaper, what the format is, and who is taking on each role in the Warrior Times.

13. “Sometimes you have to tell people what you need, says Gary’s voice in my head.” (Chapter eight) Why does Marcus keep hearing this voice in different situations? How does this message affect Marcus’s actions throughout the book. Later, Marcus realizes, “I guess sometimes you can ask and still not get what you ask for.” (Chapter eight) Have you ever experienced a time when you could have used this life lesson? Explain.

14. Marcus needs to interview Mr. Spring before writing his article about the new outdoor classroom. He lies to Mrs. Tyler about being prepared for the interview. What should Marcus have done to plan for this interview, and why is it important to be prepared? Discuss the importance of unbiased reporting and how it affects the reader, in addition to what Marcus learns about the idea that words matter.

15. When the basketball coach, Coach Fuller, says that Marcus is a tremendous basketball talent, Marcus remembers his dad saying, “‘You take it in . . . but . . . no gloating.’” Marcus thinks, “If I work hard and the praise is earned, I can still celebrate it.” (Chapter ten) Do you agree with Marcus or his dad? Explain your reasoning.

16. In chapter eleven, while practicing with his dad, Marcus flips out at his parents and says he’s upset because they’re “‘not supporting me playing basketball.’” Retell this scene and how we’ve seen Marcus’s character change. How do Mom and Dad react to his outburst?

17. In chapter twelve, the Warrior Times has finally been published. While Marcus’s article about the new classroom seems okay, the article written by Melanie about Marcus and his basketball team seems harsh. Discuss the following questions: Should news articles have a comment section? What kind of comments were published?

18. Concerning Melanie’s article about the basketball, what do you think was her intent when she published the piece? Should the reporter be qualified to write about a certain topic? Should people stop at the headline and make a judgment or read the whole article? Is it important to mention context when quoting someone?

19. The same event can elicit different reactions from the people involved. Think about the basketball article in the Warrior Times. Explain how each character—Marcus, Robbie, Kai, Sabria, Mom, and Mrs. Tyler—reacted to the article and how their reactions showcase their personalities.

20. After the upsetting basketball article, Mom suggests Marcus talk to Gary about it. What is Gary’s technique in understanding how Marcus feels? Explain the advice, “‘Hang on to helpful. Hurl the hurtful.’” (Chapter thirteen) How does Marcus react to this comment? What do you think of it, and can it pertain to your life?

21. Marcus does not want to go camping with Sabria and Mom. However, when they go on a long hike to the top of the mountain, Marcus’s demeaner changes. Explain how. What is Marcus feeling and how do the surroundings affect him? How does Marcus’s attitude change as he goes down the mountain? Are you surprised? Why?

22. Dad puts up a basketball hoop to surprise Marcus. Dad states, “‘If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,’” as he tightly hugs Marcus. (Chapter sixteen) How is Marcus’s relationship changing with his dad? Do you think this new bond will affect Marcus on the basketball court or the baseball field? Explain.

23. In chapter seventeen, Marcus returns to school for the first time since the basketball article was published. After Mrs. Tyler begins talking about it, Marcus and Melanie discuss it in front of the whole class. Discuss the debate they are having and the demeanor of each character. Who do you think has the stronger argument, or do they both provide valuable support for their opinion? Discuss Robbie’s part in this argument too.

24. Marcus is stunned by the comments that come in via the comment section for the Warrior. Do you feel people are honest when they post or comment on social media platforms? Do you think most people who post certain things would also say them directly to a person? How does a screen change what someone says about another person, place, product, or organization? What do you think is the best way to handle comments that are truly hurtful?

25. When Dad finds out about Melanie and Marcus’s conversation, Dad explains that there are two different types of criticism. One intends to help you get better at something, and the other is just people “‘giving their opinion.’” (Chapter eighteen) Explain both types of criticism and how intent and motivation play a part in it. Give examples of both, citing evidence from the text and your own life.

26. During the next basketball game, Marcus is feeling some pressure. What causes him to feel this tension? How does he control it? How does the word spin factor into his success?

27. Throughout the story, Marcus has gotten advice from many important people in his life. In the end, he writes an opinion piece as his next newspaper article. Discuss the many lessons he’s learned from his advisors, which he includes in his writing. Think about what Marcus has learned, what you have learned, and how these lessons can be applied to real life. What do you think is the message(s) the author truly wants to leave you with?

Extension Activities

1. Many people who experience stress can relate to Marcus’s struggles throughout the book. One way to relieve tension is to focus on mindfulness. Try a breathing exercise where you breathe deeply and slowly for around five minutes. Count to four on the inhale and four again on the exhale. Or focus on Gary and Marcus’s Senses Game as a way to reconnect. Relax and ask yourself: What are five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, one thing I can taste?

2. Mrs. Tyler teaches the students about the word bias by comparing two newspaper articles on the same event. While one is more factual, the other includes a reporter’s opinion to get people to keep reading. Choose a current event, and read two articles on the same topic. Do you see any evidence of bias in the articles? Why do you think it was included? How do you feel bias affects readers as a whole? Explain your reasoning.

3. Publish your own class newspaper. Think about the components of a newspaper and what Marcus and his class learned about creating one. Things to consider: newspaper title, what news to include, facts, how things are reported, and how they are perceived. Share your newspaper with your class, school, or even your community!

4. Take note of the book’s title. In chapter eight, Marcus is practicing his pitching with his dad. He repeatedly mentions the word spin, which is then repeated throughout the book. As you read, take note of when the word spin is used. Is it a noun or a verb? Note the significance of the scene and what it has to do with the title or overall plot of the story. Make a list of these instances.

5. Marcus is responsible for interviewing Mr. Spring about the new outdoor classroom. He says, “‘The outdoor classroom is… an invitation to open your eyes about the world around you. There’s nothing like being outdoors to see life close up.’” (Chapter eight) Take a class trip outside to observe nature’s beauty and write poems about the elements you see. Share them with the class.

6. Marcus consistently argues that he wants to be known as a great baseball and basketball player. Research athletes who played more than one professional sport. Some suggestions are Michael Jordan, Danny Ainge, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Jim Thorpe. What did you learn about them as players and about their personal motivations?

7. Marcus Stroman, the author of The Spin, is a professional major league baseball player. However, off the field, Stroman has created the HDMH (Height Doesn’t Measure Heart) Foundation to share his message with kids about achieving their own dreams and building confidence in themselves. Research this charity and learn more about Marcus’s mission off the field. See how you can help.

Angela Benevento is a Literacy Specialist and elementary school teacher, who lives with her family in New York.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or

About The Author

Courtesy of Marcus Stroman

Marcus Stroman was born and raised in Medford, New York, where he attended Patchogue-Medford High School. Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the eighteenth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, Marcus opted to delay the start of his professional career and instead chose to attend Duke University to further his education. Marcus has pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets and now plays for the Chicago Cubs. Off the field, Marcus is passionate about his work with the community through his charitable foundation HDMH (Height Doesn’t Measure Heart), where he helps kids achieve their own dreams and to instill confidence in themselves. Through his idea of believing in yourself more than believing in what anyone says about you, Marcus strives to be a positive role model both on and off the field. Marcus has always believed in himself and has proven all his critics wrong at every step of his journey. He is known for his determination not only on the field, but in bettering himself off the field and building his confidence in whatever he sets out to do. He hopes to instill that same confidence in kids.

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