The schoolyard can be a microclimate for all sorts of shenanigans, melees and levels of social hierarchy at the most ridiculous levels, but who knew that recess could lay the groundwork for a future in television sports reporting.
“I grew up in the [San Fernando] Valley out in Los Angeles,” says Eric Perkins, formerly of KARE 11-TV. “I definitely got my fill of just about every game on the playground and even invented my share, but one thing I always remember was grabbing the heads of magnolia blossoms and pretending they were microphones and then doing play-by-play of other kids playing games—weird but a sign of things to come.”
The mental image of little Perkins honing his blossoming (pun intended) broadcast skills around the playground while the rest of the class worked the recess circuit isn’t entirely surprising, given what his father did for a living. Jack Perkins had a noteworthy television career, including serving as a correspondent for the NBC Nightly News and The Today Show and, most notably, hosting A&E’s Biography. He passed away in 2019, leaving a legacy of insight. “He provided countless nuggets of wisdom over the years,” Perkins says. “I would send him reels of my work, and we would go over each story and broadcast and just pick them apart. He’d encourage me to be my own toughest critic.”
Perkins, 56, left his post last August as KARE 11’s longtime sports broadcaster, offering up his take on local and national sports and, on occasion, tossing himself into the mix with his Perk at Play segments, which could be equal parts goofy, informative, heartwarming and downright fun to watch, especially when Perkins showcased his flair for slapstick. “I loved driving in a demolition derby in Redwood Falls,” he says. “My other personal favorites were hitting home runs with [former MLBer] Jim Thome at spring training, being the mayor of Milaca for a day and ice sailing on Lake Minnetonka.”
Perkins joined KARE in 1996 as a sports reporter. In 2012, he was designated the station’s weeknight sports anchor and KARE’s sports director. He also served as an emcee and public speaker for various events and hosted the Pinky Swear Foundation’s annual Mess Fest.
Between college and KARE, Perkins had brief stints at stations in Tupelo, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn., where, “It earned me the nickname Elvis,” he says. “We have the same initials, too.” (Is there a sneaking suspicion that the initials weren’t the only reason for the nickname?)
But why move to Minnesota when he was livin’ the good weather life in the southern part of the country? “In TV, you gotta go where the jobs are,” Perkins says. “This is a competitive business. After those first jobs down South, the opportunity to cover pro sports in a big market was too good to pass up.”
Perkins was certainly rewarded for that decision in many ways, including by receiving some regional Emmy Awards for Perk at Play and a segment he did called Trippin’ with Perk. He also earned the TEGNA Community Empowerment Award for his involvement with Mess Fest.
Leaving the comfort of the familiar can be daunting, so how does Perkins describe his current situation? “Invigorating,” the Mound resident says. “I was curious as to whether or not I’d be second guessing my decision on the other side, but frankly, all the time away from TV has done is confirm to myself that this was indeed what I needed to do.”
“I don’t miss working those hours,” he says. “I certainly don’t miss having to wear makeup every day. I also started resenting how much the sports department’s work was getting deprioritized. It became more and more challenging to develop quality stories with marginalized airtime and limited resources.”
“[Leaving the station] was primarily driven by my loss of passion for the job,” Perkins says. “The hours were a drain for sure, but the daily work no longer lit my fire. I had been doing it for so long, and while it was an amazing career that provided for so many memorable opportunities, there was such an overwhelming sense of ‘been there done that’ that it was feeling like a giant hamster wheel I was never going to be able to get out of.”
We’ve encountered so many stories of people pivoting in terms of their home lives, careers, educations and more during the pandemic. Did that play a role for Perkins? “I was not at all influenced by other people’s decisions, but the time at home totally forced me to look inward and reevaluate,” he says. “I broadcasted at my house for over a year, and that allowed me daily tangible evidence to realize just how much I was missing at home opposed at being in the studio all day.”
Regardless of the motivation, change can be an uncomfortable outfit to wear, and Perkins offers his perspective. “Change is totally uncomfortable, but, ultimately, comfort doesn’t run parallel with happiness,” he says. “I would just urge people to have regular check-ins with themselves. Take time to evaluate your happiness and what truly matters. If you’re locked into something where you’re miserable just because it’s a steady paycheck, take the time to figure out an exit strategy. Our time on Earth is way too arbitrary to not be happy. When it comes right down to it, being stagnant in a career where you have no joy not only is awful for you, but probably for your employer as well—not to mention the people closest to you.”
Speaking of family, the upshots to making a career change aside, how does his wife and children feel about his newfound availability? “My family, or Team Perk as we like to call ourselves, are more than OK with me being around more, even if it might be temporary until I get a new job,” Perkins says. “These are really important times in their lives, and for me to be more present with them is mutually welcome.” Team Perk includes his wife Shelley; daughters Jenna (17) and Maeve (11); and son, George (15).
In day-to-day terms, what is Perkins able to participate in that his schedule previously wouldn’t allow? “Cook dinners,” he says.
“I love family meals and consider myself a pretty decent chef, so that’s been awesome.” His signature dish—“I love to try all sorts of recipes, but the one I’m most known for is my guacamole, which my friends call ‘Perkamole,’” he says.
“It’s also been really nice to be able to attend events or functions, whether it’s a multitude of kids’ sports, an occasional happy hour, galas, church activities or even bonfires with friends,” Perkins says. “It’s not that those opportunities never happened before, it’s just that now, I can actually enjoy them without having to race back to write scripts for the 10 p.m. show.”
While Perkins isn’t looking too long in the rearview mirror, he is reflective about some parts of leaving the station. “I definitely miss some of the people,” he says. “There is some immense talent and kindness in that building.”
After launching himself away from a longtime gig, where does Perkins want to land? “I am excited to start the next chapter in a role where I can utilize the massive amounts of connections I’ve made over the years,” he says. “I’ve built up a pretty substantial brand in this market and to not put it to positive use would be irresponsible.”
Top Three Finishers
What are your top three Minnesota sports stories or events?
“The Diggs miracle reception. Still get chills when I watch that highlight.” (During the final play of the January 2018 NFL Conference divisional playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum threw a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who ran for a 61-yard touchdown. This game was the first in NFL playoff history to end in a touchdown as time expired.)
“Watching Lindsey Vonn win gold in Vancouver. Unforgettable.” (This medal came in the downhill race at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.)
“Andrew Brunette’s goal in Colorado in game seven back in 2003. Best locker room postgame atmosphere ever.” (The overtime goal for the Minnesota Wild came against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2003 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.)
This or That
College or pro sports?
“Pro. My alma mater Pepperdine [University] doesn’t even have a football team.”
Winter or summer Olympics?
“This is a tough one. I would put winter on top of the podium though.”
Play-by-play or color commentary?
“Play-by-play. The best are the ones who don’t bring attention to themselves. Truly an art.”
Minnesota winters or summers?
“Summers. No school. Therefore, more time with the kids!”
Perk Has His Say
Is there an interview you want to redo?
“None for regret of not asking something I should’ve asked but more so just because I adored talking to them so much—and that’s my guy [former NBA player and Minnesota Timberwolf] Kevin Garnett. I always cherished our chats together. On cam and off cam.”
Is there an interview out there that you want to do?
“I always wanted to interview Prince. I obviously will never get that chance, but that could’ve been epic.”
You come back as a professional athlete—what are you playing?
“I want to eventually join the pickleball circuit. I am so enamored by that sport currently.”
Where’s your favorite dining spot, store or recreation area around the Lake Minnetonka area?
“We have so many favorites, but McCormick’s Pub & Restaurant is probably at the top of our list. We just love Tim and Paty [McCormick] there.” Curious about his go-to order? “A Diane Burger with truffle fries. Game over! So good. I also love the burrata and blistered shishito peppers.”
“As far as recreation goes, you can often find me at the Orono Activity Center playing morning basketball with a bunch of dads. We call ourselves the ‘Big Daddy Ballers.’ … I also really enjoy stopping into Julia Moss Designs gift shop on Lake Street. Their stuff is always
so cool and unique.”
Last question: Any plans to grow your hair out à la former WCCO-TV news anchor Don Shelby?
“Zero—but not having to shave daily has been a pretty cool perk lately.”