Perk @ Play

AS A SPORTSCASTER FOR LOCAL NBC NEWS station KARE-11, Eric Perkins knows a lot about the games people play. Originally from Los Angeles, where his father Jack Perkins was an NBC news correspondent and A&E Biography host, Perkins (or Perk, as he’s better known around these parts) graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in broadcasting. After stints in both Mississippi and Tennessee, he joined KARE-11 in 1996. Shortly thereafter, “Perk at Play,” a sports segment where Perk tries to beat people at their own games, was created.

After participating in almost every sport imaginable—from hula hooping and barstool racing to bullfighting and ski jumping—who better to give us the lowdown on Minnesota sports than Perk? Where Twin Cities caught up with Perk on his way down to Red Wing, Minn., (where he learned how to herd sheep with the help of a top notch Border Collie) and got his opinion on everything sports from the Vikings and the Wild to that darn Twins stadium.

What do you like about covering sports?

Clearly the access you get is something special. I mean, being able to watch the football games from the 50-yard line and in the press box and getting to travel with the team. Being able to sit in the sixth row of a Timberwolves game and hang out in the locker room with the players and go to the practices and sort of get to know them. You know, hanging out in the dugout at a Twins game. All that has a lure about it.

The downside of covering it is that a lot of these [players] are spoiled brats. We have some athletes we prefer covering and clearly we have some athletes we prefer not covering.

What are some of your favorite Minnesota sports stories you’ve covered?

Wow. One of my favorites was the Vikings 15-1 season (1998). It was almost dreamlike. Every game they won and every game they scored 40 points, and it was such a fun ride to be a part of all that. They just marched through everybody they played. As a sports guy following that, obviously the morale was very high and the players were, as far as the Vikings go, great to deal with or as good as they’ve ever been to deal with. It was pretty electric. We had a bunch of hotel rooms already booked in Miami for the Super Bowl and some of us had already packed and were ready to leave following that Sunday game. Then they lost at the end to the Falcons in the championship game. It was bizarre to see 60,000 Vikings fans once again left hanging and it’s still troubling to always see that and how beat down they get.

The Wild’s playoff run [was also a highlight]. They were in their third year of the franchise and they just stunned the whole NHL by getting as far as they did. I just remember them going to Colorado and going to Vancouver and upending two teams that were complete heavy favorites over them. They took them both to game seven and they were just ridiculously dramatic series. And the Wild were just like kids in a candy store and wide-eyed. So many of them hadn’t had that experience, and were kind of playing over their heads and overachieving. It was really neat to be a part of that and hang out with the franchise as they were going through uncharted territory.

And last summer [the station] sent me to cover the Olympics in Athens. We were there to cover Minnesota athletes. That was a pretty magical experience.

Do you have an all-time favorite Minnesota athlete?
That would have to be Kevin Garnett [power forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves], and I say that without hesitation. He’s as close to golden as I’ve ever run into. He’s such a kind and genuine, lovable guy, with such a huge heart and deep passion for the game he plays that he’s just fun to be around. And he makes it fun. He makes you comfortable. For all the demands that are on him, he’s incredibly giving and I just think that if the sports world had more people like Kevin Garnett, it would be a lot better off.

What do you think about the Twin Cities as a sports market?
It’s great. The teams are great. You’ve got a three-time defending central division championship baseball team. You’ve got an awesome football team that always seems to be good. I just think sports are great here and I think it goes beyond the pro teams. You look at the University of Minnesota and what they’ve been able to do with all their national championships. And then the St. Paul Saints, where the experience is always fun. They actually wanted to Velcro me to the center field fence and see how long I could stay out there during the game, so they’re really fun to work with in that regard, in that they’re very creative. And, the high school athletics are outstanding.

How well do you think our professional sports teams match up with our city?

Get the stadium [a new Twins stadium that has been under debate for several years]. Get the stadium thing figured out. I realize how many variables and how many hoops there are to jump through and how many people with different agendas are getting in the way, but every other city has been able to work it out. It’s just painful to watch a baseball game in another stadium—whether it’s Fenway Park or Wrigley Field—because the outdoor baseball experience is like none other. As someone who covers sports in this town, we’d much rather be at Wrigley than in the Dome. I think the same goes for football—there’s an advantage in bringing a team like Jacksonville up here to play in the snow and 10 degrees. I also think the Gophers desperately need one, too.

How do our city’s recreational sports compare to other cities you’ve worked or lived in?

It’s phenomenal, because we have such drastic seasons. I can go wind surfing in the summer and ice sailing in the winter. I can go skiing, and I can also go waterskiing. I can go wakeboarding, and I can go snowboarding. Those parallels are so drastic and it’s so neat. I can spend 12 hours on the boat fishing for walleye, and then I can come back to that same spot on the lake in the winter and drill a hole in the ice and make it a completely different experience. Recreationally speaking, it’s just so diverse and has a leg up on other places. The cities are full of outdoor enthusiasts and they fully take advantage of the seasons. I was told early on when I first got here that these winters are long but if you just embrace them you’ll be a lot better off. I’ve tried my best to do that.

What is unique about Minnesota sports fans?
They’re very knowledgeable. If I make the slightest error on the air, I’m quick to be corrected by multiple persons. They know what they’re cheering about.

How is a fan’s experience different here than other cities?
If anyone were to come to town during the summertime, I’d tell them to go to a Saint’s game. That is something that we have that nobody else does. If they are here in the winter, I’d tell them to go to a Gopher hockey game—if they could get a ticket.

How do you think the Vikings will do this year?
I’m alarmingly optimistic. I have one of those feelings it’s going to be another one of those crazy years. They’ve always had an offense since I’ve lived here, and now all of a sudden they seem to really have a defense.

What about the Timberwolves?

God love ‘em. They’ve got a new coach and they still have the franchise, our guy KG, and they’ve made some interesting off-season moves. They got rid of a trouble player, so they might be better off. I certainly hope so.

And the Wild?
They’re back! We get to cover them again. It was heartbreaking last year. I think we have a true star-in-the-making in Marian Gaborik and he’s going to be an all-star for years to come.

What is the most fun Perk at Play you’ve ever done? The scariest?Eric Perkins in a Nascar racing car
The most fun was a demolition derby at the Redwood County Fair in Redwood Falls. There’s something incredibly empowering about actually acting on road rage and knowing you’re not going to get charged for the damage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I was so horrified at ski-jumping. I got physically ill I was so scared. How would anybody in their right mind do this? And yet, we do it here.

You’re not originally from here, but what do you like about living in the Twin Cities?
There’s a lot. It’s clean. It’s pretty. The traffic’s not that bad. From what I understand it’s a great place to raise kids, which is what I’m trying to do now. And the people have treated me awfully well here. And the weather is overrated.

Is there anything else a visitor should know about Minnesota sports?
Try not to mention that whole [Green Bay] Packer rivalry. Don’t wear a wedge of cheese on your head and come to downtown.