Adnan Virk is Joan Rivers to Keith Olbermann’s Johnny Carson

Adnan Virk, left, co-hosting ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show with Mike Golic.
Adnan Virk, left, co-hosting ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show with Mike Golic.

Ask Adnan Virk if he is a rising star at ESPN and he will refer to the assessment by the blog Awful Announcing and concede that is how it must appear to the casual viewer.

"You look at the optics and that makes the most sense from the outside," said Virk, the Toronto native who grew up outside Kingston, Ont.

It is about the only time Virk will let someone else do the work. In the four years since he joined ESPN, Virk has proven himself ready and quite capable of handling all assignments tossed at him, be they anchoring SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight, hosting issues-oriented shows such as Outside The Lines, substituting for Keith Olbermann on the latter's late-night show and, more recently, doing baseball play-by-play. Virk will call the Tigers-Pirates spring training game for ESPN Monday from Bradenton, Fla.

"I like to do new things, I embrace challenges," said Virk, 35, who does not worry about becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. "The more you can do, the more valuable you will be.

"I caution people against predicting things for myself. This is not the 1950s, where you had the same occupation for 30 years and then you retired."

Virk is one of three anchors for Baseball Tonight, his primary responsibility for ESPN. Virk dives into ESPN's other properties during the four months Baseball Tonight is dormant.

The plum during his most recent tour, the assignment Virk calls "the most surreal" was filling in for Keith Olbermann on the latter's late-night show Olbermann.

It almost didn't happen.

In late February, Virk was in Canada, visiting family and got a text message about 2 p.m. asking whether he could sub for Olbermann. It is an indication of Virk's regard for the opportunity that he considered briefly whether he could drive back in time to do the show. He asked to be considered the next time and has now filled in for Olberman -- who has been battling shingles -- six times to great acclaim. Dave Sarosi, the co-ordinating producer for Olbermann told Virk he had "the right sensibility" for show.

(Virk couldn't avoid his peripatetic nature when he first hosted Olbermann. Earlier in the day, he was the host for Outside The Lines. "I was exhausted when I walked out that night.")

By his own admission, Virk is one of the most ardent admirers of Olbermann, praising Olbermann's smart writing and irreverent on-air style. Virk PVRs Olbermann's show to study Olbermann's writing style and when Olbermann left ESPN for MSNBC in 1997, Virk was horrified to discover his local cable provider didn't carry MSNBC. Not until Virk called them. On his first guest hosting assignment for Olbermann, Virk included a segment recorded when Virk was with The Score and had interviewed Olbermann at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008.

"It's not a dream," Virk said of hosting Olbermann. "Because I never thought it would happen."

Virk has been designated as the show's go-to host when Olbermann is unable to do it, what David Letterman and Joan Rivers once did for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

"It may be a little dated but you think about how much respect they had for Johnny," Virk said. "It is crazy, an unbelievable thrill."

Olbermann's response to Virk's substitution has been muted, although you can bet if he didn't like it, he would say something. Virk has been told by Olbermann's technical crew that Olbermann "is like an umpire in baseball. He doesn't say anything if it is good."

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