George Brett sat in front of his locker for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, answering the same inevitable questions on the eve of Tuesday night's 57th all-star game in the Astrodome.
He is 33, and out of this year's game with a sore shoulder. An 11-time American League all-star, he first played in this game in 1976 with such teammates as Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Tiant and Catfish Hunter.
Today, Brett, replaced on the AL roster by Brook Jacoby of the Cleveland Indians, looked around the clubhouse and saw new names -- some names so new that few fans would have recognized them a year ago. Almost no one would have predicted their impact on the game in 1986.
There are Roger Clemens, 23, the 15-2 pitcher; Wally Joyner, 24, and Jose Canseco, 22, the rookie home-run sensations; and Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, 25; Toronto's Tony Fernandez, 23; California's Mike Witt, 25; Milwaukee's Teddy Higuera, 27, and Seattle's Jim Presley, 24.
No factor is more striking than the AL's sudden infusion of young talent -- 14 of its 28 players are first-time all-stars, and three more are playing for the second time.
There are nine players 25 or younger, and the man who is arguably the game's best player, Don Mattingly of the New York Yankees, is 24.
"I'll tell you," Brett said, "it's exciting. It really is. Look around this clubhouse, and what you see is indicative of the young talent coming into our league. It's not a fluke. These guys can play. The thing is, you look at the National League team, and it seems the same guys have been playing every year -- Mike Schmidt and Gary Carter, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker."
At the eye of a pregame storm of attention are the AL's three first-time starters: Puckett, the Minnesota Twins' center fielder; Joyner, the California Angels' first baseman, and Clemens, the Boston Red Sox pitcher who will start the game against Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets.
"I salute the fans for picking someone like Wally Joyner," Kansas City second baseman Frank White said. "It shows they're paying attention."
Joyner will be the 15th rookie to start an all-star game, the first since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. He's also the first rookie whom fans have elected to the starting lineup.
He has become something of a cult hero in Southern California, partly because of his 20 homers and 72 RBI and partly because of his personality, which is a mixture of Dale Murphy and Beaver Cleaver. He charms interviewers, not with wit or controversy, but with politeness, enthusiasm and eye contact.
"I'm just tickled to death to be here rubbing shoulders with these guys," he said. "I'm probably too young to even be here."
He pointed at Canseco, who, at 6-3 and 215 pounds, seems to tower over 6-2, 185-pound Joyner.
"I can't keep up with that guy," he said. "When he comes up to hit, everyone gets quiet because you might see something you've never seen before and may never see again."
Asked to describe his rookie season, he said, "Unconscious." He hit four homers during today's home-run contest, then, when AL batting practice began, went into right field and led fans in a cheering contest.
Perspective? "Listen, I'm a ballplayer," he said. "That's what I do for a living. That doesn't make me special. Driving here today, we went past the Texas Medical Center. I think what they do is a little more important. I just happen to get a lot of publicity for what I do."
Joyner and Canseco and Puckett come to the AL team at a time when it has lost 21 of the last 23 all-star games. Hoping to change the league's luck, Royals Manager Dick Howser will pitch Clemens for three innings and perhaps Higuera for three and Texas' Charlie Hough for three.
From the moment his Royals won the World Series last fall, Howser has said he would pick a team that would win, not necessarily please everyone. To that end, he took only eight pitchers, three of them left-handers, so that in late-inning situations, he can match his scorecard against the one St. Louis' Whitey Herzog holds.
Herzog, who brought 10 pitchers, appeared to take a shot at Howser's selections when he said: "I want to thank Chub Feeney National League president for letting me pick 10 pitchers. Even at that, we had to leave off many who were deserving. I don't think I'll use 10 pitchers, but I'd like to see the rules changed so there would be 30 players on the squad, 12 pitchers."
In picking his lineup, Herzog said: "I'm going to start at the bottom -- the way I've been doing it all season in St. Louis his team is fifth in the NL East ." He started with his No. 9 hitter and No. 1 pitcher Dwight Gooden (10-4, 2.77) and put more New York Mets in the third, fourth and fifth spots -- Keith Hernandez, Carter and Darryl Strawberry.
Howser said he picked his rotation because, "I think they're different enough that it could give hitters some problem."
Clemens throws 95 mph, Higuera is a screwball pitcher and Hough a knuckleballer.
Herzog said Gooden will pitch "two or three innings" and be followed by Los Angeles' Fernando Valenzuela or Houston's Mike Scott.
Herzog calls the game especially important because "I'm the only National League manager who has lost in the last 13 or 14 years."
Or as AL President Bobby Brown said: "My first year in San Francisco 1984 , I said the American League would win. We didn't come to eat abalone. Everyone has reminded me of that since then. Well, this year we didn't come to Houston just to eat Mexican food."