Tim Kurkjian, of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, always knew that somehow he would do something in baseball.
Kurkjian grew up in a house of baseball. “My dad was a really good player…. more importantly, he understood the game,” he said. “Baseball was all we talked about at the dinner table.”
While growing up, if he wasn’t playing ball, he was following it on TV, collecting the cards, playing table top baseball games, reading everything possible. Both of his brothers had successful baseball careers as Hall of Famers at Catholic University.
A graduate of in Bethesda, where he also played baseball and basketball, Kurkjian said he always thought it fitting that he attended the high school named for the greatest pitcher of all time. He wrote for the high school newspaper, “The Pitch,” and the yearbook, “The Wind-up”.
While earning a journalism degree at University of Maryland (’78), he stayed connected by covering high school sports for the Montgomery Journal.
After college, Kurkjian went to work for the Washington Star. “I started out in the lowest possible job…but it was really a great experience,“ he said. When the Star folded in 1981 he went to work for the Baltimore News American, but with hard times falling on the newspaper industry, he was laid off after just two months. Not daunted by losing two jobs within a two month span, Kurkjian went to work for the Dallas Morning News in 1982. It was there “where I really became a baseball writer,” he said.
From 1986-89, he covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun, then in 1990 he moved to Sports Illustrated. In 1997, to Kurkjian’s disbelief, his editor at Sports Illustrated switched him to covering basketball, which he did for about six months. Confident that his true calling was baseball, he signed on with ESPN in 1998 as a baseball writer and television journalist on Baseball Tonight.
Making the transition to television reporting at age 40 was a challenge for Kurkjian, but he quickly learned that his writing background prepared him well. Doing a live show like Baseball Tonight you have to be careful, said Kurkjian, you don’t want to mess up on TV because “there is no net under this tightrope act.”
“Being a writer teaches people how to do television … understanding the story and how to present the story, you learn that from being a writer,” he said. “I haven’t met anyone on TV who is not a great writer.”
Success for Kurkjian has involved more than hard work and preparation. Keeping up with stat, and familiarizing himself with all the players and teams required that he become a student of the game, an expert completely immersed in the game of baseball. For 20 years, he cut out the box scores from the newspaper every day for every major league game, meticulously taping the scores into spiral notebooks.
To be prepared for a 9 a.m. SportCenter show, “I would start at 5:30 a.m. every day, looking at the computer and finishing the box scores …and the goal was to be done before the kids got up to go to school,” he said.
About 3 years ago, ESPN set up a studio in Kurkjian’s home which allowed him to do much of his broadcasting of live segments from his residence. The years of driving to a studio on Georgia Ave. for taping are behind him, but it has proven a mixed blessing.
“The good news is I have maximum flexibility, the bad news is my work is quite literally in the house now,” said the Darnestown resident. “When I am here, people think I am off, and I am anything but off.” During the summer months, broadcasting from home can involve up to seven shows a day: 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., then Baseball Tonight at 10 p.m. and midnight.
Kurkjian admits that he does not focus on baseball 24/7 and needs that down time between live shots to get things done, like mowing the lawn and helping around the house. “I can’t tell you how many times I put something in the oven, run up here to do a radio show or live shot,” he said, “and go downstairs as soon as the chicken parmigiana is ready.”
Even with the home studio, Kurkjian still travels weekly to Bristol, CT, for filming Baseball Tonight segments. And, in addition to television broadcasts, he covers a number of live MLB games, writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, and does several radio shows a day.
“This is quite an interesting life I have carved out here for myself,” said Kurkjian. “It’s pretty busy.”
Still, despite the many ESPN hats he wears, he considers himself first and foremost a writer. He just finished a story commemorating the April 6, 20th anniversary of the opening of Baltimore's Camden Yards, and wrote a bus diary for every day he was on the month-long ESPN bus tour, including some 26 spring training stories.
The author of two books, “America’s Game” and “Is This a Great Game or What?”, he hopes there will be time for another book in the future. The third book may have to wait, however, as Kurkjian recently renewed his contract with ESPN for four more years.
His leisure time may be limited, especially during baseball season, but he enjoys keeping in shape by playing basketball with a group of guys at Magruder High School, he laughs adding, “kind of an ‘old dog’ league with some young players mixed in…It’s the most fun I have had playing basketball in a long time.”
With this very rewarding and busy career in baseball that seems to be Kurkjian’s date with destiny, he is most grateful that he had the opportunity to be active and involved in the life of his family and kids.
Now that the kids are in college, what Kurkjian misses the most is going to the basketball games, soccer games, concerts and school plays that his kids were involved in.
“I used to be there seemingly every day…. I ran the shot clock for the girls basketball games and senior year I kept the team scorebook…and coached the girls Varsity summer team,” and although it was tricky balancing work with all that was going on, “that was about as good as it gets for me,” he said.