Ten Minutes with Tyler Kepner
New York Times Sportswriter
Tyler Kepner didn’t follow a zigzagging career trajectory. From a typical kid attending Philadelphia Phillies games to a teenager writing about his favorite subject in the back of the classroom, he’s had his eye solidly focused on the ball. Baseball, to be precise. A Wilton resident since 2006, the national baseball correspondent for the New York Times keeps up with the demands of his job while raising four kids with his wife, Jennifer.
You grew up in the Philadelphia area. How did that shape things for you? I was a baseball nut growing up, so I went to a lot of Phillies games. They did pretty well in the late 70s when I was a little kid so I was hooked right away. Then they stunk from the time I was eight until I went to college. But if it gets you before you’re eight, baseball doesn’t let go.
How did you end up being a publisher before you hit high school? When I was 13, a friend and I started a baseball magazine. We wrote stories, trivia games, anything we thought would be fun. I sent some of my work to my favorite sports writers, including George Vecsey at the New York Times, who showed it to his editor. So I’m 14 and I get a call from the Times, who then ran a story about this kid publisher in Pennsylvania. We started getting subscription orders from all over the place.
How did you connect with the Phillies? My dad knew Dave Montgomery, who was the team’s executive vice president, and gave him my magazine. Dave told his PR staff, “Give this kid a feel for things and see how he does.” I was able to hold my own, so I started doing interviews when I was 15. After that I would go down to Vet Stadium every home stand.
What was your first professional beat? When I graduated from Vanderbilt, I didn’t have any geographic ties, I didn’t need a lot of money back then, so I just said: pay whatever you want, I’ll go anywhere, I just want to cover major league baseball. And I started right away covering the Anaheim Angels.
Colleagues and fans see you as a sharp and fair sports writer. What is your approach as a journalist? I really try to show respect to the players. The one thing they hate is a know-it-all. It’s easy when you’re writing a story to try to get this quote just to feed your own assumption. Instead, I try to take advantage of their knowledge and ask questions I don’t know the answers to already. My goal is to tell stories, put things in perspective, and offer analysis: what’s going on and why.
We hear you pitched a no-hitter at Fenway. What’s that all about? The Yankees and Red Sox sportswriters hold two games every year, one at Fenway and one at Yankee Stadium. That particular story was a bit embellished, but I did pitch an eight-inning shut out at Fenway in 2006.
You’re on the road about a third of the year. How do you keep things in perspective? There has to be a balance between what you give up and what you get. It’s a very demanding job, and you have to love baseball to do it right. But when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.