Tim Kurkjian stars at Shorebirds Hot Stove banquet

Longtime baseball writer and television personality Tim Kurkjian wanted nothing more than to talk a little baseball on a cold January evening.

The Bethesda, Md., native and current ESPN baseball analyst had that opportunity Thursday, Jan. 24 at the annual Shorebirds Hot Stove Banquet as the event’s featured guest speaker.

“I enjoy this, I enjoy just being a part of the game,” Kurkjian said. “I’m coming up on 40 years in baseball and I don’t care how corny this sounds, but I love to do it and the fact I get to do it for another year and I get to do it for ESPN is so great.”

“It’s exciting to kick off the ball season,” said Shorebirds’ General Manager Chris Bitters. “When you have weather like we had earlier in the week, it’s nice to talk baseball, think some warm thoughts and as part of what we do for the community being able to bring a guy like Tim down here to speak here in Salisbury, Maryland, is pretty cool.”

“It’s been way too long, I haven’t been to Ocean City in 20 years. I’m not real good at the beach – I’m not real good on land, either – but it’s about time I went over the Bay Bridge again and came down here,” said Kurkjian, who says he has close friends who live in the area.

While Kurkjian was the main attraction at the 18th annual banquet, hosted by the Shorebirds at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, the two-hour event also featured speeches from Bitters, Pat Filippone and Kent Qualls.

Will DeBoer, the director of broadcasting and the voice of the Shorebirds, served as emcee of the event.

“This is my favorite event of the year,” said Bitters. “Obviously, it kicks off the baseball season, but we’ve been blessed with the support of the Orioles to have a lot of really cool speakers. I think this is our second-highest attended Hot Stove banquet – since I’ve been doing them, I can’t speak for the team before me.”

Filippone, who serves as president of 7th Inning Stretch LP – the company that owns the Shorebirds and two other minor league baseball teams – addressed the banquet crowd regarding the recent upgrades to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium for the upcoming 2019 season.

The biggest, and perhaps most recognizable, upgrade to the stadium for the spring is the newly-constructed 360-degree deck.

“It’s not unique to other parks, they have 360 concourses, but it’s a very unique and awesome, cool space to hang out and shoot the breeze for a few innings with some friends or if you have kids go walk around and hang out, grab a beer and enjoy the ball game from a completely different perspective,” Bitters said of the addition.

The concourse wraps around the stadium and includes a wooden deck beyond the outfield wall, which will offer fans a completely different perspective that’s never before been possible at Perdue Stadium.

Other offseason renovations include re-painting, new carpeting and the installation of ceiling fans in the suites. The Hardball Café had new tables and swivel chairs installed.

Bitters, who took over as General Manager of the Shorebirds in November of 2006, is excited to unveil the new offseason renovations. While the renovations in the last couple of years have been more structural, he and the front office staff is excited about this year’s fan-oriented changes and additions.

“This year it’s been all things that the fans are going to touch and see, so we’re really excited about the improvements and then the guys put together a pretty kick-butt promotional schedule,” he said.

The promotional schedule for the season, which was officially released at the banquet, includes a Star Wars Night (Friday, May 10), Harry Potter Night and Golden Snitch baseball giveaway (Friday, May 24), “The Office” Night (Thursday, June 6) and a Jimmie Allen bobblehead giveaway (Friday, July 26).

Qualls, the Director of Minor League Operations since 2013, made his seventh annual visit to the banquet to touch on the happenings within the minor league farm system heading into the new season.

Among the highlights, Qualls pointed out that 15 players in the Baltimore farm system made their major league debuts during the 2018 season. Seven of those 15 players had suited up for the Shorebirds during their professional baseball career.

Kurkjian’s nearly 25-minute-long speech capped Thursday night’s festivities, with the longtime writer discussing his passion for the game of baseball and sharing some of his favorite stories, anecdotes and memories of his almost four-decade-long career covering Major League Baseball.

“It’s the best game because, I don’t care what anyone says, it’s the hardest game in the world to play. I will argue this with anyone. It’s impossible to get a hit off a big-league pitcher if you don’t play professionally or you’re not a really good hitter,” he said during the speech.

“Because the game is so hard to play, you have to be unbelievably good to play this sport and I can’t even begin to tell you the talent level of the players I have run into during the nearly 40 years that I’ve covered.”

After being asked by an audience member, at the conclusion of his speech, who his favorite player to cover throughout his career has been, Kurkjian named Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop/third baseman and hometown hero Cal Ripken Jr. as his favorite.

Employed by ESPN since 1998, Kurkjian attended University of Maryland College Park before making stops at the Washington Star from 1978-81, Dallas Morning News from 1981-85, The Baltimore Sun from 1986-89 and Sports Illustrated from 1989 until he was hired by ESPN.

While he’s always been a writer first, Kurkjian said he was thrown in front of the television in the mid-1990’s without having previous experience in the industry. Now, he makes regular television appearances throughout the baseball season.

“What the Baltimore Sun and the newspaper business taught me was what a news story is, how to present it and then television is just a different way to present it – but it’s the same idea,” he said. “My days in Baltimore were great, my 10 years as a beat writer are my proudest days I’ve ever spent.”

Kurkjian also touched on his early-career experience covering minor league baseball.

“I covered minor league baseball for a couple years and it was just a tremendous experience for me as a young man, to understand what minor league baseball was like. The Alexandria Dukes, the worst team I’ve ever seen, but what a great learning experience,” he said. “And minor league baseball now is so good, so any time a minor league baseball team asks me to come speak I always try to do it because this is one part of the game that is really on the rise.”

At the conclusion of his speech, Kurkjian was greeted by applause and a standing ovation from many of the attending fans in the crowded banquet hall.

Throughout the night, 15 raffle tickets were pulled, allowing fans in attendance to win baskets filled with Shorebirds and baseball-related prizes.

More than 60 items were auctioned off in the event’s silent auction, with bidding ending shortly before 8 p.m. Among the items were autographed baseballs, framed photos, bobbleheads, jerseys and posters.

The Shorebirds begin the 2019 season on the road at Lexington Thursday, April 4, playing a seven-game road stand against the Lexington Legends and Kannapolis Intimidators.

Delmarva opens its home schedule Thursday, April 11, against the Lakewood BlueClaws. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.

 

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