SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the past 15 months, the Giants have brought in new leadership in the front office and overhauled the most stable coaching staff in the sport. The structure of the ownership group has changed twice, and on the field, the roster moves come at a frenzied pace. Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik are gone, with other Forever Giants soon to follow.
It has been a period of change for a devoted fan base, but the Giants and NBC Sports Bay Area are going to try something new this season to make sure two of the organization's most important voices remain together.
Mike Krukow has signed a two-year extension, and as part of that deal, Krukow will broadcast 22 road games from the NBC Sports Bay Area studio. The Giants and the network will try something that hasn't been done before, allowing Krukow and Duane Kuiper to call most NL West road games together while sitting hundreds of miles apart.
This season fans will be introduced to SplitKast, which will debut during the season opener against the Dodgers on Thursday, March 26.
Krukow had previously cut his road schedule because of his battle with inclusion-body myositis, a muscle disease he made public in 2014. It has made travel increasingly difficult, and by the end of the 2019 season, Krukow knew he no longer could handle even the shorter trips on the schedule. This new solution will keep Kruk and Kuip together in a creative way.
"It's something that hasn't been done before, but we're really looking forward to being able to do 22 more games together," Krukow said. "I'm only losing six games from what I did last year, and that to me is enormous. I don't want to have to quit. To me, this was a gift. I'm ecstatic about it."
The concept actually is relatively simple. The broadcast booth will split transmission lines and make sure both broadcasters are set up so there's no audio or visual delay. Kuiper will have a monitor next to him in the booth with a real-time shot of Krukow back in his dedicated space in the NBC Sports Bay Area studio, and Krukow will have the same. He'll also have access to whatever feeds he needs to take in everything that's going on at the ballpark, along with a direct line to the broadcast truck.
Krukow and Kuiper also will use iPads to FaceTime during the game so they can have a direct conversation during commercial breaks.
Krukow, a former big league pitcher, said he generally watches games through the monitor anyway because he wants the best view of the pitch. Kuiper, who calls the majority of the action while watching the field, doesn't anticipate much of a transition period.
"I think it'll take two or three innings to get used to the dynamics of him not being there, but we've done so many games for so long that I think it's going to be an easy transition, I really do," Kuiper said. "If I thought it was going to be complicated I never would have suggested to do it. A lot of it is going to be in the lap of Jeff (Kuiper) and Jim (Lynch) in the truck and when we first talked about it, they were totally on board.
"In a lot of ways, it's much more work for them, but they've accepted that and they want to do it and they're happy to do it, so that's why I'm not really worried about the transition. I think our fans want to see us together one way or another. The first couple of innings are going to be weird, I don't think there's any doubt about that. But I don't think it's going to take very long to ease into this."
Krukow had already stopped traveling on most trips, with Javier Lopez and Shawn Estes splitting the NL Central, NL East and interleague play last season. Inclusion-body myositis is not life threatening but causes progressive muscular weakness. It can be especially hard to go up and down steps in a ballpark or a jet bridge at the airport. When Krukow started negotiating a new deal, he told Giants president and CEO Larry Baer that he couldn't travel anymore.
"I have to listen to what this thing is," Krukow said. "He was great. Larry said, 'Hey, we'll take whatever you can give us.' It's a horrible thing to have to deal with something that takes away a passion of yours. It's like a pianist that has arthritis and he can no longer play. Every day that you get to talk in the booth, we don't take that for granted.
"I'm able to keep working. This isn't going to jeopardize me in the booth. It's the nuts and bolts of it where I have to listen to what my body is telling me and the road just ain't in the plans anymore."
Baer has known for a few years that the Giants might have to go in this direction, and he said the plan is to keep the duo together as long as possible. It becomes clear how important that is every time Baer makes a lap of the ballpark, where fans regularly stop him to show appreciation for the broadcast team.
"You have two beloved figures for the Giants in Kruk and Kuip, and we have a rare thing where they really are inextricably linked," Baer said. "When you walk down the street people say 'We love Kruk and Kuip!' They love Kruk and they love Kuip, but they love Kruk and Kuip. We wanted to keep that link as strong and as present as possible for our fans. Doing this gives the fans games that are going to be largely against our division rivals, including the Dodgers. We want to give them as much Kruk and Kuip as we can."
Krukow plans to do all 81 home games and then be in studio when the Giants visit the Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks. He'll do 103 games in all, thanks to a plan that has been quietly kicked around the broadcast truck and the studio for three years. NBC Sports Bay Area originally proposed setting up a studio in Krukow's home in Reno, but as Krukow and Kuiper talked it over, they thought the San Francisco studio would be a better fit.
"Stuff goes weird sometimes, and as I talked to Kuip, we said that if we're going to do this it has to be good," Krukow said. "This can't be half-assed. We can't be breaking down in the middle of the broadcast. Kuip said, 'If you do it, think about doing it in the city.' "
For Krukow, the biggest adjustment actually will come before the games. He always makes a lap of the visiting clubhouse to chat with players and coaches about what they're seeing and the field conditions. He said he might have to make some phone calls instead to get information he can use during the game, and he'll certainly miss having the broadcast window open to soak in the atmosphere and weather.
Years ago, legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray told Kruk and Kuip never to close their window, no matter how miserable the weather was.
"Harry told us you have to feel what the players are feeling," Krukow said. "I'm kind of giving that up, but with Kuip there and a few well-placed phone calls, I think I can bring the field into the booth."