Kelli Johnson

Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow provide outlook on different 2020 MLB season

Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow provide outlook on different 2020 MLB season

With Spring Training 2.0 opening up around Major League Baseball this weekend, no one is more excited about the return of our National Pastime than the legendary voices of Giants baseball, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. 

“I’m thrilled," Kuiper said during a recent conversation. "I’m thrilled for me, personally, selfishly that I get to go to the ballpark and do a game with Mike. Now I can’t wait for the schedule to come out and drive to the ballpark. I’ll even be happy stuck in traffic driving to the park.”

“Well, he’ll be happy for like two days stuck in traffic.” Krukow said.

And there’s a lot to look forward to in what will be a season unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Instead of a marathon, it’s become a 60-game sprint, which Krukow believes is a huge advantage for a team like the Giants.

“It’s a golden opportunity," Krukow said. "Everyone keeps talking about the rebuild. Well, the Giants have one of the older teams in baseball. What older teams have learned, especially the ones who have been champions, they learn the importance of chemistry. They learn the importance of a good attitude. And I think that is going to be paramount when they gather up.

"We thought the Giants had a great spring training. There was really a nice foundation being laid of a positive vibe. If they get off to a good start, it’s a sprint. They could be in the playoffs. And once they get into the playoffs, who knows what could happen.”

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kuiper agrees with his broadcast partner.

“Yeah, I mean, think about the 60 games," Kuiper said. "It’s equivalent to almost one game equals three games. So if you had a three-game winning streak, it’s like an eight- or nine-game winning streak, for during the regular season. But on the other hand, if you go in the toilet early, well, then you’re probably looking at prospects. So you have to get off to a good start.”

There’s also a handful of new rules to adjust to, that has Kruk & Kuip intrigued. MLB already had instituted the three-batter minimum for relievers entering the game. But now there will be a universal designated hitter, and while it’s technically planned for just this season, Kuiper thinks it might be here to stay.

“You know the DH, as much as we b---h about people in the National League that don’t like it, it’s coming," Kuiper said. "And I don’t think there’s any way we can stop it. I think the Players Association wants it. And if they want it, and they can use that as a tool for negotiations, then I think eventually that’s just the way it’s going to be.

“I’ve said it before, for every Madison Bumgarner at the plate, there’s 30 Atlee Hammakers.”

But the biggest change in this shortened season will be what happens in extra innings, when teams start with a runner at second base in an effort to end games quicker and avoid those exhausting all-nighters, which Krukow believes is essential to protecting pitchers.

“It’s kinda like starting your offense from the 25-yard line in football, it’s like what?" Krukow said. "But I think now, because there is a vulnerability to injury when you haven’t had a full spring training for your pitchers, the rule makes sense. The one thing you dread is an extra-inning game going 17, 18 innings. It just destroys your staff. And I think that was the real reason they put this into effect to sort of protect the physical side of your pitching staff. So I think it’s going to be fun.”

Yeah, maybe fun for the runner at second, but the pitcher entering the game, not so much. A fact, Krukow, a former pitcher, was quick to point out. But there is another reason he loves the idea.

“You know what I think? The bunt has just completely been almost removed from the game," Krukow said. "And I always thought it was a beautiful thing to watch a good sacrifice bunt. Or a good at-bat when a hitter hit a ball to the right side of the infield to get that runner over. When you start that inning with a runner on second base, you’re going to see small ball back. I’m looking forward to it.”

One thing is for certain, this season will be strange in so many ways, but Kuiper believes, “if you’re going to try something different, now is the time to do it.”

The toughest challenge no doubt will be keeping everyone safe in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. The other will be adjusting to the constant changes as routines are broken and possibly altered consistently throughout the entire two-month season. Krukow believes how the Giants handle it will be key to their success.

“We get back to attitude," Krukow said. "When you’re in the world of baseball, a routine is so much a part of your day. It’s so much a part of the rhythm you take right into the game. And nothing throws off an athlete or baseball player more than having his routine broken up. So it’s going to be really important that you overcome it mentally as a group.

"That’s going to give you an edge early on. And one bad apple or attitude could spoil a whole clubhouse. That’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how players react to having routines on a routine basis upset.”

As Krukow’s broadcast partner of 30 years, Kuiper is keeping it real.

“I don’t care about the players routine, it’s our routine that they’re messing with," Kuiper said. "I mean those three hours before a game starts, that’s the most fun three hours that we have. And that’s totally changed now. I mean we’re going to be in separate booths, how about that? But yeah, we are built around routines. We were as players, we certainly are as broadcasters. And that routine is shattered and we’ll just have to figure it out.”

[RELATED: Posey has support of Kapler, Giants]

And that brings us to what will be missing this season, that cannot be replaced. The fans. While the games will go on, Krukow knows they won’t be the same down at 3rd and King.

“That’s going to be the worst part of this whole thing," Krukow said. "The energy from our fans in San Francisco is something that, I don’t care how tired you are, when you walk in that ballpark, the electricity in the yard fills you up and we all count on it. Players count on it, we count on it. Everybody. All the fans count on it. It is going to be odd.”

But hey, at least there will be fan cut-outs in the stands at Oracle Park, and you better believe, if someone’s face gets knocked down by a foul ball, Kruk & Kuip still will be ruthless, in the best way possible.

NFL star safety Sean Taylor's tragic death cut short Hall of Fame career

NBC Sports

NFL star safety Sean Taylor's tragic death cut short Hall of Fame career

Editor’s note: NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kelli Johnson recalls covering the tragic passing of Washington star safety Sean Taylor, featured on this week's edition of the Sports Uncovered podcast.

Why? It’s a question I’ve asked over and over again since Sean Taylor’s death 13 years ago.

It still feels like a bad dream, a nightmare that left me standing in front of his home in Miami, in a daze, numb, covering the murder scene of not just a star player that I covered in the NFL, but a friend I was just getting to know.  Sean should be here today. He should be watching his beautiful daughter, Jackie, grow up. He should have just wrapped up a Hall of Fame career. 

But just as Sean was beginning to realize his greatness, both as a player and more importantly as a man, his life was tragically taken.

The day we learned Sean had been shot was November 26, 2007. It was after Washington played the Bucs. I was in the Tampa airport about to board a plane home with my crew, when I got a call from work. I don’t remember who called me. All I remember is hearing that Sean Taylor is fighting for his life in a hospital in Miami. I was told to get my bags off the plane and get down there.

At first, I didn’t believe it. And then when we heard there were conflicting reports over whether it was Washington's Sean Taylor or someone else, I immediately thought it had to be the latter. But it wasn’t. When we finally got to the hospital in Miami, the grave reality of the situation hit me and it was devastating.  It didn’t feel real. 

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The rest of the day and night is all a blur. I only remember when owner Dan Snyder and Sean’s closest friends on the team, Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, showed up. And later around midnight or 1 a.m., when Sean’s dad, Pedro, came out to give us an update. Pedro, or Pete as we came to know him, sounded hopeful after Sean had moved his hand and fluttered his eyes, giving his family and doctors encouraging signs that maybe he had turned a corner.

It was the good news we all needed to finally leave and head to our hotel, with the hope that Sean was going to survive. But somewhere around 4:45 or 5:00 am that morning, after just a few hours of restless sleep, I got another call. The one I was dreading. Sean Taylor was dead. I was frozen. 

It was the beginning of the worst day of my professional career, and one of the worst days of my life. 

Sean was guarded and shy, when he arrived in Washington as the fifth overall draft pick in 2004, and his mistrust in the media only grew the following seasons, after a few off-the-field incidents, including a DUI.

[RELATED: Moss, Portis detail Taylor's shocking death]

I remember him saying that he always felt like the media was trying to get him to say something that would make him look bad or get him in trouble. I tried to explain to him that being available to the media from time to time would only help him. I pushed him to do a few interviews so that fans and the world could get to know the Sean that I had gotten to know. 

That Sean was kind and thoughtful. He was always asking me questions, he was inquisitive. We would chat about food and family and random stuff. And when his daughter was born, man did his eyes light up when he talked about her. All of a sudden, he had a purpose in life: To provide for her and be the best dad he could be. 

When I think about Sean now, I always go back to something he once said. When talking about how seriously he takes his job, he said, “it’s almost like you play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom." And that was Sean. A big kid who loved football and played the game with a reckless abandon and a natural talent few people in this world are blessed with. 

To see him on the football field in his pads was a sight that blew you away. He looked like a linebacker, yet he was a safety, who could fly from sideline to sideline and close in on a pass in the blink of an eye. 

He was so good, so explosive. He could make a huge mistake in coverage and still recover to break up a play. 

[RELATED: Gore felt like he lost a brother when Taylor died]

I’ll never forget his two-interception day of Brett Favre at Lambeau Field, that gave Favre the NFL record in interceptions. Sean’s second pick was just a normal play for him, but to others, it was a jaw-dropping display of his incredible athletic prowess and instincts, with Sean coming out of nowhere to snag the ball down the sideline. It was Hall-of-Fame type talent. His bust would’ve ended up in Canton, there’s no doubt in my mind.

The last sit-down interview I did with Sean before his death happened during training camp of that 2007 season. He had on an army green hat and spoke very softly, but he was relaxed, almost unguarded. And when he flashed that beautiful, shy smile, the one he reserved for only a small few, I thought, this is the Sean I want everyone to see and know. 

The Sean the world was unjustly robbed of at just 24 years old. Why?

He should still be here.

What Kelli Johnson misses most about sports during coronavirus hiatus

What Kelli Johnson misses most about sports during coronavirus hiatus

Editor's note: Like you, NBC Sports Bay Area insiders, reporters and analysts are feeling the sports void during the coronavirus stoppage. They'll share their thoughts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in "What I Miss About Sports." Next up in the series: "Giants Pre and Postgame Live" host Kelli Johnson.

While many professional sports leagues have been shut down mid-season because of the coronavirus, for Giants fans, we’ve been patiently awaiting a new season, missing baseball since Sept. 29, the day we bid farewell to Bruce Bochy, after 13 seasons and three World Series rings. That was end of an era, and the greatest decade in San Francisco Giants history.

And now as we continue to wait for the beginning of a new era of Giants baseball, not knowing when the season will start, or if it will start, is not easy. But there is so much to look forward to when it hopefully does begin. 

Yes, I understand that many Giants fans are struggling with the reality of a rebuild and watching a team that’s likely still years away from being a playoff team again. But hey, you just never know what a season has in store, and I am honestly intrigued and curious about this new direction, with a new front office, new manager in Gabe Kapler and new, young coaching staff.

So what do I miss most right now? As a Giants fan, I’ll be honest, I miss the Crazy Crab’z sandwiches! I mean can we just talk about the delicious toasty sourdough bread, fresh tomatoes and mounds of fresh crab meat that I never knew I needed in my life, but now I can’t live without?! Even for a crazy $19 a sandwich, it’s worth it! 

I also miss watching the game that I love at one of the most beautiful venues in all of baseball. We Giants fans are simply spoiled. While Oracle Park has changed names many times since it opened in 2000, one thing that has never changed: It’s gorgeous views overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Not to mention the “always on-time Seagulls” that show up every night after the seventh inning! 

But I am still in awe of how amazingly beautiful and unique the ballpark is, every single time I go to a game. And this year, whenever the season opens, we will be celebrating Oracle Park’s 20th anniversary. From Barry Bonds' 35 splash hits into McCovey Cove, to Matt Cain’s perfect game and countless moments and highlights during the Giants' three World Series runs, there is a lot to look back on and celebrate. 

Personally, my first memory of Oracle Park, then-AT&T Park, is the Giants' 2015 Home Opener, right after I moved to San Francisco. I was off that day and the weather was amazing, as my dad would say, "A perfect day for baseball!" So I went to the ballpark and wandered around the outfield (eating my very first crazy crab sandwich!) and laughing as Madison Bumgarner rode out on a horse to center field with the club’s third World Series banner. It was an incredible scene with fans going crazy, and I remember thinking, how lucky am I to live here and cover this team? And now just over five years later, I’m entering my second season as host of the Giants Pre and Postgame show and I’m still pinching myself, feeling so blessed to be a part of the San Francisco Giants community and NBC Sports Bay Area family. 

Now as a baseball host, what I miss most are my analysts, “My guys,” as I like to call them, and right now I could really use some Flan-alytics! Seriously only Tim Flannery can make sense of all this new information Kapler’s coaching staff is working with, while making me laugh at his clear love for sabermetrics! I would also love to engage in another round of "Belt Wars" with Rich Aurilia and Carmen Kiew in the newsroom. And I really could use some hard-hitting “Keys to a Giants win” from Michael Morse, which last season included, more snot rockets from Madison Bumgarner. Speaking of Mad Bum, man I’m really going to miss him! 

Then there’s Kruk and Kuip, and Amy G, the best broadcast team in baseball! How lucky are we to have them? They have provided the soundtrack to Giants baseball for decades, while the trail-blazing Renel Brooks-Moon has been the voice that’s greeted us at Oracle Park for 20 years, breaking down barriers for women along the way! I miss all of their voices and can’t wait to hear them again. 

[RELATED: Ishikawa's NLCS walk-off came with funny Peavy moment]

Last and most important, I miss hanging out with our Authentic Giants fans on “Say Hey Tuesdays” at Willie Mays Plaza! I am amazed at their loyalty and willingness to stand in the San Francisco cold, late into the night with us. The Giants have some of the best fans in all of sports and I am definitely missing their energy right now, as I shelter in place with my dog, Riley.

Full disclosure, I might have missed covering the Giants dynasty this last decade, but I look forward to covering the Giants return to the mountain top this decade.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone. And long live baseball, America’s favorite pastime!

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