Son's Strength Gives Focus To Sportscenter Rookie Mayne

While infant son Connor Mayne was hospitalized, fighting for his life with the heart of a champion, his father, Kenny, sat at his cribside, holding a miniature Ken Griffey Jr. model Louisville Slugger and talking about when father and son would go to the ballpark together.

Just another father dreaming about the endlessness of lush, lazy baseball afternoons with his son.

Connor and his twin brother Creighton were born four months premature in May 1996 while the Maynes were on a trip to Portland, Maine.

Creighton died, but Connor stayed alive, surviving all of the surgeries, battling against the immeasurable odds, fighting for the chance to spend those afternoons at the ballpark with his dad.

"There's just so much truth and reality when you see this little baby in the hospital," Kenny Mayne says. "Connor had more fight than anybody I've ever seen. The most courageous little guy ever."

Mayne's wife Laura stayed at Connor's bedside night and day at Maine Medical Center for the six months, while Mayne returned to work at ESPN and drove the four hours to Portland on his off days.

"Kenny never changed his demeanor through all of that," says Dan Patrick, Mayne's new SportsCenter partner.

What are the forces that keep a child alive? Where does he learn that fight? Where does he find the guts? Every day, for six months, Connor amazed his parents and his doctors. Every day, until his last day, this little child taught these adults about the value of life.

"Everything was looking great," Mayne says. "He was doing so much better. He had a bad heart, bad kidneys, bad liver, bad lungs. He had all of these problems, but he just kept beating the system. He was amazing.

"It was just so cool to watch and we were just getting so sure that it was going to be this miracle. Unfortunately, everything crashed in one day. He died on Nov. 23."

But life continues. Somehow you find the strength to get to the next day. Somewhere Mayne found the reserve to continue his job.

"It's been absolutely brutal. I couldn't have done it without Laura," he says. "She was a rock. It's something we've had to deal with every single day. It makes you realize that family is what matters. Nothing else matters.

"It makes you realize how inconsequential all this stuff is. I mean, I've done about 15 radio interviews over the past 24 hours, like I'm some big deal and I'm not. SportsCenter may be a big deal, but I don't think I'm anything special. I just happen to get to sit next to Dan Patrick and talk about sports."

When a pal catches a break in his life, it's a day for celebration. When you know the persistence it took to get that break and the pain he endured through the process, it makes the break even more meaningful.

Last week, Mayne was named Keith Olbermann's successor as co-anchor of Sunday night's hourlong SportsCenter. He will begin teaming with Patrick on Aug. 31, the night of the NFL's season openers.

It is a victory for persistence.

Mayne left Tacoma's Channel 11 in 1989 over what generously could be called creative differences. He was creative and management wasn't.

"I made my move against Channel 11 without a lot of forethought," Mayne says. "But basically I didn't like it there anymore."

Uncomfortable with unemployment, Mayne took whatever jobs he could find. He assembled garbage cans in the rain in Kent during the raw months of autumn.

"That would be my blue period," he says.

He took a spin at telemarketing in Redmond for six weeks. And he worked for MCI, trying to convince people to change their long-distance carrier. None of this was part of the Bob Costas program for broadcasting success.

Through all of the uncertainty, however, Mayne continued calling ESPN's 800 number, pitching stories on Gary Payton or Shawn Kemp or Derrick Fenner, every Northwest story du jour. Pitching so many stories his rotator cuff ached. Winning some. Losing some.

He kept pitching until the network hired him full time in 1994 to host ESPN2's motor sports show, RPM2Night.

"I thought getting hired here in '94 on ESPN2 was my break," says Mayne, who turns 38 next month. "And now I'm on SportsCenter. It's become a piece of Americana, and to be part of that, I'm real lucky to be there.

"My philosophy is going to be, don't screw it up. What I've got to do is forget about what it is and all of the people who are going to scrutinize it and me more, and just go out and do what I've been doing."

He has to forget the idea that he has to be funny and has to be irreverent. Fortunately, Mayne is funny and irreverent, and is one of the best writers of sports I know.

"I think what Laura and I have been through has actually helped me in my work," he says. "I mean, doing the job was easy. You just talk to some people on TV about sports. Compare that with having your son in the hospital on a ventilator."

My pal Kenny Mayne caught the break of his career last week and I feel like celebrating for him.

You can contact Steve Kelley by voice mail at 464-2176.