The SI Kids tourney-themed April issue treads on tamer turf. It offers a resplendently sidebar'd profile of Ohio State manchild Greg Oden, complete with a foldout poster. It throws out two pages of well-presented facts and figures (giving nearly equal play to the women's game) and presents a surprisingly nimble preview for an issue that probably went to press well before the brackets were announced.
SI Kids occasionally wastes its time on over-discussed subjects, like nicest-guy-on-the-planet candidate Joe Mauer or David Beckham (whose poster/scouting report happily neglects to discuss his tattoos or his wife's skeletal physique). That said, it manages to enliven several of these topics by conveying the basic info often glossed over by more grown-up publications, like how Mauer's stance and practice techniques help him to spray the ball to all fields. This is stuff that kids can use.
Even when SI Kids runs with an obvious story idea, like the fantasy-baseball preview housed in its SI Teen "bonus section" (another brand extension? Medic!), it presents information in a colorful and pithy manner. When the mag looks elsewhere for inspiration, it does even better. The April issue pays more than token attention to sports, like lacrosse, more popular among kids than older sports fans. It's as comfortable being silly (an illustrated feature on made-up buzzwords like "sweatastrophic") as sincere (a profile on Johnny Damon's favorite coach).
What SI Kids understands is that, even amid the relentless flurry of sports information online and off, it remains possible to entertain and inform a younger audience without patronizing them. The mag assumes a certain degree of knowledge among its youngest readers and, in doing so, doesn't present anything so simple and straightforward as to turn off the 11- and 12-year-olds.
In fact, though SI Kids officially bills itself as a publication for kids aged 8 and up, at least two of the April issue's features boast legit appeal to adult readers. The first tracks, in words and well-chosen photos, the journey of a baseball bat from the forest to the factory to the hands of the DREAMY Derek Jeter. The other, on athletes who double as artists in their off hours, presents a side of the jock personality rarely on display on the field or court. Both diverted me substantially more than did the asinine chronicle of the Tony Parker/Eva Longoria relationship in this week's Sports Illustrated.
Along those lines, if anybody knows what's going on at the SI mothership -- in particular, why Jeff MacGregor and Steve Rushin no longer work there -- please shoot me a note. Y'all are my eyes, ears, nose and conscience.
Back to the matter at hand. Yeah, I dig both the content and the encouraging tone of SI Kids. And even if I didn't, I'd still recommend that any sports or video-game/entertainment company wanting to reach the next wave of fans should get onto its pages.
Here's why: Every member of my generation who grew up with Sports Illustrated will buy his kid a subscription to the junior-varsity version as soon as he/she can read. There's simply no other publication out there that nurtures the enthusiasm of young fans whose intelligence and senses of humor haven't yet advanced to the point where they can be graduated to Deadspin.
I'd be shocked if ESPN, never an entity to leave even a slither of a potential audience untapped, doesn't try to move in on the young-fan action before too long. Until they do, and probably long after, SI Kids is The Man.
And just for the hell of it: UCLA over Texas A&M.