Beginning this weekend, all of the baseball world will descend on Washington for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and its corresponding festivities, but for some, it's a home game.
ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, who is in his 20th season as one of the network's MLB analysts, is one of them. A Bethesda native and University of Maryland graduate, Kurkjian’s baseball passion fueled by the standout Orioles teams of his childhood and he covered the team for the Baltimore News American and The Baltimore Sun early in his career.
This weekend, amid his television and reporting duties covering baseball's showcase at Nationals Park, Kurkjian will take a break to participate in the MLB All-Star Legengs & Celebrity Softball Game, too. He spoke to The Sun about the Manny Machado trade storyline that will consume the All-Star festivities, what else he'll be watching and how to prepare for such an athletic endeavor on national television.
You've probably been a part of a ton of these All-Star weekends. Can you remember any kind of precedent or any similar examples of what everyone might experience this week with Manny Machado being such a focus, not only for the fact that there's an All-Star Game but everything else going on around him?
We've had other guys come to the All-Star Game wondering, “Am I going to get traded during the All-Star break?” I think David Price must have been in that situation before, but he's different. He's different than Manny Machado, because Manny Machado has spent his whole career with the Orioles. He has been a great player for the Orioles, and it just seems odd to me — it's not odd, but we're here now at the All-Star Game, he's still on the Orioles, still hasn't been traded and it still looks close to 100 percent to me that he's going to be traded.
It's one of those really, really tricky situations where it's just uncomfortable knowing that he's wearing an Orioles uniform today, representing the team at the All-Star Game, and he might be traded two days after the All-Star Game — or one day after, for all we know. This has been going on for 10 months. This isn't just something that snuck up on us. We were talking heavily about this at the winter meetings last year. It's really time to do something here, for the Orioles to start their rebuild and for Manny to know where he's going, and for whoever gets him to know, “All right, we just picked up a real difference-maker who can play shortstop or third base.”
Now, we're in it and this is the everyday reality for reporters following this story, but what does something like this do to the general fan, the person who is going to turn on the Home Run Derby or the All-Star Game or the Futures Game? Is this something that resonates with them?
I don't think the average fan feels, “Why should I watch the All-Star Game if Manny Machado is going to get traded after the game?” I think the average fan is looking at this the way they should be looking at it — this is an exhibition, and this is a celebration of baseball. It's not just a one-night event at the All-Star Game. It's the Home Run Derby, it's the Futures Game on Sunday and it's the fun that these All-Stars have. It's the first-time guys, whether it's Jesús Aguilar or Scooter Gennett, these guys who have never been here before and now are in an All-Star Game.
To me, that's what an All-Star Game is all about, the first-time guys who have never made it. It gives our fans a chance to see the best guys in each league, and some guys they don't even really know about, and that's what the All-Star Game is about for me. It's not winning and losing, it's about great confrontations between power pitchers and power hitters, and it's about the nation getting a look at our best young players. And there are a lot of young ones again in this game.
It's definitely going to be fun. But one thing you didn't mention is the Celebrity Softball Game, which I understand you're going to be taking part in …
Yes, I left it out on purpose — I was hoping you'd forget to ask me about that.
As someone who struck out looking in my one media softball game, what's it like to be able to do this on such a big stage in an area you grew up in, with D.C.'s first All-Star Game in a half-century. Is that something you can mentally or physically prepare yourself for?
I'm honored to be asked. My boss at ESPN pushed to get me in. I think he thought Shaquille O'Neal was going to play, and what a great photo opportunity it would be with me standing next to Shaquille O'Neal. I think he wanted me there as some sort of prop or tackling dummy, some kind of scale and context of how big and strong some of these guys are and what I look like at age 61. I'm 5-4 and a half, I'm 61, I'll need a hip replacement a year from now I'm sure, so physically, I'm not sure I'm really looking forward to this. And mentally, I must say I'm a little bit nervous because my greatest fear in life is being embarrassed in an athletic competition. But I played baseball and basketball in high school, and I'm hoping that 50 years later almost, I'll be able to summon some of those skills and not make a fool of myself. But if I do, I will jump off the top of the stadium to my death if I really embarrass myself Sunday.
Well, as a media member, you know all about how high that press box is.
One of the highest in the league.