Children can handle the truthSometimes, kids ask the darndest things.
Inspired by a Sports Illustrated for Kids' feature in which kids write in and ask Alex Rodriguez probing questions like, "Who is the greatest third baseman ever?" and "What was Derek Jeter thinking with the whole Mariah Carey thing?", we decided to let some young fans query other figures in the world of sports.
Were we surprised by the candor shown? Let's just say Jim Gray never gets honesty like this in his interviews.
Q: What do you want to do when you stop playing football?
-- Tommy, age 11
Kurt Warner: That's a very good question. When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman, but I don't think my wife would like it too much if I pursued one of those careers, especially after she's watched me get hit so much in the NFL. Before I got to the NFL, I worked on the local level in retail grocery distribution, but I don't think Brenda would like me doing that again, either. She says she's a natural on the radio, so maybe I can be a stay-at-home dad. But if your mom or dad works in an interesting field and has a job opening, would you please have them get in touch with my agent?
Q: My older brother makes fun of me because I'm afraid of snakes. Are you afraid of anything?
-- Trisha, age 10
Sebastian Telfair: Of course. I think no matter what your brother says, we're all afraid of something. Someone wise once told me that saying you aren't afraid of anything just means that you're afraid to live. I'm afraid of snakes, too, so tell your brother to step off. I'm also afraid of unprotected heights and really big dogs. Sometimes, I even have nightmares about being chased along a cliff by a big dog. Oh, and I'm also afraid of NBA teams discovering that Keanu Reeves and Tara Reid have more range than I do on my jump shot. But don't tell anyone.
Q: What's your favorite color and why?
-- Michael, age 9
Rasheed Wallace: I hadn't really thought about it before, Michael. I'm not sure I have a favorite color, but there are a few colors I hate. Most of all I hate grey. Just the sight of anything grey -- say, a person's shirt -- drives me into a frenzy and makes me want to scream. I feel like grey has been disrespecting me all my life, just waiting for me to do the slightest little thing so that grey can blow its whistle and make me go sit on the bench. I know lots of other players feel the same way about grey, but they don't get singled out for hating grey. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Everywhere.
Q: What is your favorite childhood memory?
-- Janice, age 13
Pedro Martinez: That's a tough question, because I have so many wonderful memories from childhood. I remember when I was really young and I helped some women in my neighborhood carry home food from the store. I did it for several weeks in a row and nobody in the neighborhood could carry as much as me. And I remember how good it felt when my mom rewarded me by giving me a little more for my allowance each week, even though she was already stretching her budget.
Then I remember my first job and how my boss was so appreciative of the work I was doing that he gave me a raise in the middle of the day once. Just like that, without saying a word! It's really nice when authority figures recognize your contributions and reward you with some sort of bonus or extra pay. I miss those days.
Q: My basketball team is really struggling right now. What should we do to turn things around?
-- Larry, age 11
Mark Cuban: The most important thing is to stick together. As long as you and your teammates remember that you're in it together, you'll be able to work on improving. And it's important to focus on the little things. Don't worry so much about making flashy plays or scoring a lot of points to try and get things turned around. Just focus on things that you can do all the time, like blocking out for the rebound and talking on defense. Do those things and the offense will eventually come. The other thing is coaching. You need to have the right person giving you the right message. Do you like your coach? If not, do you want Don Nelson? And I'll throw in Antoine Walker.
Q: What does it mean if the defense lines up in what looks like a cover-2 scheme but then shifts the corners off the line while bringing up the weak-side backer and shifting the strong-side defensive end to one of the gaps? Should the quarterback audible out of a pass play so the tight end can stay in to block on a run play?
-- Billy, age 5
Terrell Owens: Umm, would you like an autograph? I have my own Sharpie.
Q: Who was your role model and why?
-- Trevor, age 10
LeBron James: I would have to say Michael Jordan was my role model growing up. I knew I wanted to play basketball and MJ was the best, so it made sense to emulate someone who had already mastered what I wanted to do. So I worked hard to be just like Mike. Even now, I try and keep him in mind when I'm dealing with all this success. It's why I push my teammates to be better. It's why I try to accommodate as many media and endorsement requests as possible off the court. And it's why I have absolutely no knowledge about the working conditions in any factories that make the products I endorse. I couldn't even tell you where Vietnam is on a map, so don't bother asking. All in all, I think that's why my rookie season went so well.
Q: Who do you think is the best pitcher ever?
-- Chris, age 9
Roger Clemens: There are so many great pitchers, it's tough to pick just one. But I'll tell you that Nolan Ryan is the pitcher I most respect. He's really been an inspiration in my career. I tried to dominate hitters just like he did with strikeouts. And his ability to pitch so well in his 40s was a big reason why I decided to come out of retirement and pitch in my home state -- just like he did for the Rangers. In fact, I can't wait for Robin Ventura to come to town with the Dodgers so I can get him in a headlock and beat the daylights out of him -- just like Nolan did.
Q: I'm 12 years old and want to organize a pee wee football team in my neighborhood. What are some things I should do to make sure we have a really good season?
-- Jenny, age 12
Tom Coughlin: The most important thing for any young person playing football to remember is that it's all about having fun out there. And nothing is more fun than spending as much time as possible on the football field. Try and turn everything into a competition to make it even more fun. See how many sprints you can run in the morning practice, and then try and beat that number in your afternoon practice. Introduce cuts to make sure only the people who work the hardest at having fun are around. And if your parents complain about all the time you're spending on football, just remind them that it's voluntary.
Q: You may have cost me a title in my fantasy league when you quit on the Pirates. What can I do to save my season?
-- Ben, age 7
Raul Mondesi: Shouldn't you be doing homework? Besides, if you drafted me, chances are you weren't contending to begin with. And it's not my fault that I had to get out of Pittsburgh. Blame Mario Guerrero if you have to blame someone. The guy hit seven career home runs and says I owe him $640,000 for improving my baseball skills? Even Peter Angelos wouldn't pay $640,000 for seven home runs.
Graham Hays writes "Out of the Box" five days a week in--between moonlighting for Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.