Mayor London Breed clears way for Giants' June return to Oracle Park

Mayor London Breed clears way for Giants' June return to Oracle Park

The Giants expect the construction of their new bullpens to be finished in the next week or so. It might not be much longer before players are allowed to throw off the mounds. 

San Francisco mayor London Breed outlined new reopening rules on Thursday afternoon, and there was good news for professional sports teams. As part of a phase that will go into effect before June 15, professional sports teams can practice in the city of San Francisco with an approved plan. The city is targeting June 15 for the next phase, which states in part, "Professional sports games, tournaments and other entertainment venues allowed with no spectators with approved plans."

The players and owners are still far apart in negotiations, but if they can strike a deal that gets baseball back in July -- the target is to get games back by the July 4 holiday -- the Giants will be cleared to come home. Internally, they are still discussing the next steps and what a Spring Training 2.0 might look like. They're trying to decide between training at Scottsdale Stadium and doing so at Oracle Park, and the current lean is said to be returning to San Francisco.

It's not quite that easy, of course. The Giants would have to make significant changes to the structure at Oracle Park, expanding clubhouse space and finding new areas within the ballpark's footprint to train while following social distancing rules. They're hashing all of that now, and while they were never all that concerned about the restrictions in San Francisco, it certainly is a sigh of relief that the city is officially moving forward with reopening plans. 

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The Giants have quietly reopened one of their other facilities in the meantime. Players who remained in the Scottsdale area have been allowed to work out at the ballpark there, although social distancing is practiced and there are limits on how many people can be in the building at one time. The vast majority of the team remains spread out across the country. 

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Watch Pablo Sandoval pitch at Giants Summer Camp on Oracle Park mound

Watch Pablo Sandoval pitch at Giants Summer Camp on Oracle Park mound

Giants manager Gabe Kapler will get extremely creative with how he uses pitchers in the shortened 60-game 2020 MLB season. But just how far will he go?

Probably not this far.

Pablo Sandoval recently took the mound at Oracle Park, sporting a mask and wearing a first baseman's mitt. The buzzword of Giants Summer Camp is "versatility," and this certainly is next level.

It's also not the first time Sandoval has toed the rubber. 

The third baseman/first baseman/DH famously first stepped on the mound in San Francisco during the 2018 season. He pitched a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning on April 28, 2018, in a 16-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sandoval also pitched a scoreless inning last season, on May 6, in a 12-4 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati. 

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Sandoval also underwent Tommy John surgery last season. The veteran slugger has been full-go ahead of the upcoming season, and should serve as a power bat off the bench while also earning spot starts here and there. 

"Let Pablo Pitch!" chants will ring out from afar with no fans in the stands. Don't hold your breath, but you never know in this already extremely odd baseball season.

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How Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper will broadcast Giants games this season

How Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper will broadcast Giants games this season

For 13 weeks, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper inadvertently prepared for what now will be their reality. They watched on monitors as Brandon Belt put up MVP numbers and Kevin Gausman emerged as a stabilizer in the rotation. They called Joey Bart's first career homer and chuckled as the rookie got the silent treatment in the dugout. 

Kruk and Kuip spent about 90 minutes every week in recent months looking at screens and calling PlayStation simulations that aired on Fridays on NBC Sports Bay Area. Both say they believe that experience has set them up well for a season unlike any other. 

"We had an hour and a half where we did a game off the monitor, which is what we're going to end up doing for the road games," Kuiper said. "I think it was a great way to prepare us to do these road games."

Krukow already was preparing to do 22 games off a monitor since he wasn't going to travel this season. Now, both will do every game from Oracle Park, beginning with two exhibitions against the A's that will air on NBC Sports Bay Area next Monday and Tuesday. Just as with players and coaches, the broadcasters are preparing for a 2020 season that will include plenty of adjustments, starting with the fact that the broadcasters will do road games by viewing the Giants on monitors set up in their booths at Oracle Park. 

The Giants' broadcasters will not be allowed to be in the same booths during the 60-game season because if one person showed symptoms of the coronavirus, the entire broadcast team would have to be quarantined. Krukow will now be set up in Willie McCovey's booth, which neighbors the home TV booth. Jon Miller and Dave Flemming will also be separated, doing the radio call from two adjacent booths. Neither Krukow nor Kuiper thought this would be an issue. 

"Even though we'll be in different booths he'll only be three or four feet away with a window in between us," Kuiper said. "We'll use hand signals or whatever. That's not going to be a problem."

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There are, however, challenges that already have been identified. The MLB operations manual for this unique season does not allow TV broadcasters to travel but does permit it for radio broadcasters, so it's possible that an opposing team could show up at Oracle Park with a radio team and a Spanish-language radio team. At some point they would run out of booths on the broadcast level, which could lead to a visiting broadcaster being set up in the seats nearby.

Kuiper also anticipates running into a sound issue because of the lack of fans. The Giants are expected to have some sort of artificial noise in the park during games, but it won't be thousands of fans. If Hunter Pence hits a huge home run in the eighth inning, Kuiper likely will hear the calls of Miller, Flemming or Erwin Higueros, and vice versa. 

You would think players might also hear the calls in an empty park, which would be strange and potentially awkward if the broadcasters are having an honest conversation about a player who is struggling. But Kuiper isn't concerned. 

"I don't think the players are going to be able to hear us," he said. "I'm not 100 percent sure, but I've tried to yell from our booth to get someone's attention on the field when it's fairly quiet and you've got to yell pretty loud for somebody to hear you."

Kuiper and Miller will be separated by an extra booth most nights to try and avoid competing calls. Another key member of the broadcast team will also be away from her usual spots. Amy Gutierrez generally roams the ballpark or positions herself in the dugout during games, but that's not possible this season. She'll be in the NBC Sports Bay Area studio on Third Street for every home game and said one of her primary goals will be to give a voice to fans who cannot attend games.

"I'm going to try and bring that to the broadcast," she said. "They deserve to have a place on this new platform because they've had something taken away from them as well."

Gutierrez might also mix in Zoom interviews with new players, particularly prospects at the secondary site in Sacramento, and said she's looking forward to seeing what aspects of this unfamiliar broadcast stick long term.

There is some thought within the industry that certain franchises could opt to make the broadcast-from-home method permanent. Krukow and Kuiper already were set to try a new way to be together more often, but they now will get to broadcast nearly the entire season from their familiar level at Oracle Park (the schedule does include four national broadcasts).

[RELATED: Posey's leadership will be missed but won't be forgotten]

There is, of course, one other issue that's front and center for anyone involved with baseball this season. Krukow has been strictly quarantining in Reno and Kuiper in the East Bay, and both will now be at the ballpark every night. Krukow said he has been even more careful since getting word that baseball is returning.

"Once this thing went down we self-quarantined again and really got tight," he said. "We don't want to bring anything into the booth to jeopardize our partners and crew. I'll be really careful. We're coming in with a mask, it'll be sterile and as benign as possible."

It'll be an adjustment, to be sure, but one the entire broadcast team is ready for. The game might look different this year, but Krukow and Kuiper plan to be there narrating every step of the way. 

"We're in an age now where we don't take any game for granted," Krukow said. "We're looking forward to doing it."

Kuiper said he has often considered that the broadcasters are having dinner with Giants fans every night. That won't change in 2020, even as so much else has. 

"For as long as we've done it our fan base has always been very kind to us, and this is where we want to be, too," he said. "When the game starts, we want to have dinner with the fans."