WJ ’74 Tim Kurkjian shares his career journey


Kurkjian (center) called the September 19 Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game on ESPN. Kurkjian, who graduated from WJ in 1974, has worked for ESPN since 1998.

Ethan Schwager, Copy Editor

 Long before he was in the broadcast booth, appearing on ESPN and even before he wrote stories for any major newspaper, Tim Kurkjian was a student at Walter Johnson writing for The Pitch. A writer who proclaimed himself to be so inexperienced that once the school’s football coach told him that he had written the worst story the coach had ever read.

   After being told by the coach, “I hope you’re not planning on making this your life’s work because this is terrible,” Kurkjian said to himself, “I better get a whole lot better now.”

   Kurkjian wrote for The Pitch until his graduation in 1974, when he moved on to study journalism at the University of Maryland at College Park. Kurkjian graduated from UMD in 1978 and got a job writing for The Washington Star.

   “I was writing good stories for a great newspaper and [then] it folded,” Kurkjian said about the Washington Star. It had been around for 129 years until it closed in 1981, leaving Kurkjian with no other option other than to look for a different job.

   After The Star folded, Kurkjian interviewed with the area’s other major newspaper, The Washington Post. The interview with sports editor George Solomon lasted nine minutes before Kurkjian was told that he wasn’t ready to work at The Washington Post.

   “I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t good enough and I had to get better,” Kurkjian said. “I just kept showing up every day.”

  Solomon, who didn’t hire Kurkjian, has spoken to him on many occasions since.

“[Solomon] apologizes for it all the time,” Kurkjian said.

   After a few writing jobs, both locally and across the country, Kurkjian landed a job with the Baltimore Sun as a beat writer covering the Baltimore Orioles. As a writer with The Sun starting in 1986, Kurkjian became very familiar with Orioles superstar shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and established his first connection.

   “Our connection was through basketball of all things,” Kurkjian said. “I ended up playing in a pickup basketball game with [Ripken] and instead of being this dinky little guy who just shows up with a notepad every day and interviews him, he looked at me in a different light.”  

   Kurkjian was hired as a writer with Sports Illustrated in 1989 and worked at the magazine until 1998, when he was offered a position at ESPN. By age 40, Kurkjian was not only a newspaper or magazine writer but also an on-air talent for the network’s Baseball Tonight program.

   “ESPN is like the greatest sports bar in the world except for there’s no food and there’s no beer but it’s the same idea,” Kurkjian said, quoting his friend and SportsCenter Anchor, Scott Van Pelt.

   ESPN has given Kurkjian opportunities such as the once-in-a-lifetime honor of playing in the Celebrity Softball Game at Nationals Park this summer as a part of the 2018 MLB All-Star Week. Kurkjian was able to play a game with celebrities such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and actor Jamie Foxx along with Baseball Hall of Famers.

     He focused on preparation before the Celebrity All-Star game.

   “I went to a batting cage a few times in Gaithersburg,” Kurkjian said, “I took some batting practice and took some ground balls with Josh Harrison of the [Pittsburgh] Pirates.”

   The celebrity game was a success as Kurkjian was able to cross home plate and score a run for the National League team. However, Kurkjian’s team ended up losing the game 10-14 to the American League.

   The opportunity to play in the celebrity game was certainly a result of his work on ESPN, but what has made him such a fabulous reporter and baseball analyst has been his ability to make connections with baseball players that he interviews. As he stands at 5’4”, Kurkjian is able to connect well with shorter players such as Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.

   “My lack of size has really ingratiated me to people like Jose Altuve,” Kurkjian said, “I like to feel like I understand on a very small level what he’s going through.”  

   He takes connections like these to his written stories and to the broadcast booth where he calls many games on ESPN every month. Other examples of Kurkjian’s include connecting with Astros third baseman Alex Bregman on how Bregman’s father attended WJ just a few years after Kurkjian. Or how Kurkjian’s son Jeff works as a radio show host in Las Vegas and that has built up a good connection between Tim Kurkjian and Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper who grew up in Vegas.

   Kurkjian has come a long way since he was a student at WJ being told he wasn’t good enough to become a sportswriter. Through covering many events throughout his career, he was able to get better at writing which ultimately led to gaining more and more opportunities in the field of sports journalism.

   “There’s no significant talent here, trust me, I just showed up everyday and did the job,” Kurkjian said.  

   The past may have looked bright for Kurkjian with coverage of the World Series, All-Star Games and many appearances in the broadcast booth. However, there is much more to come from the ESPN analyst, journalist and WJ graduate who has embodied perseverance throughout his career.