The San Francisco Giants’ promotions department has produced yearly slogans based on togetherness for the last four seasons. It’s a franchise that values continuity, for reasons based both on marketing and baseball. The longest-tenured general manager in North American professional sports presides over a team with a manager, coaches and several players who’ve been around a long time, relatively speaking. But only Brian Sabean himself can say he’s been on his job as long as the folks behind the Giants television broadcasts have been on theirs.
Everyone knows Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. Kruk and Kuip have been calling games together since the early 1990s. Until recently, I didn’t know much about any of the crew members they’ve worked with for so many years — several since the beginning of their on-air partnership. When the Giants played the Rockies on Monday, Aug. 25, I got a chance to watch the controlled chaos on 30+ screens from the broadcast truck.
The nerve center
CSN Bay Area rents a truck that’s the size of a mobile home, and they tug it around the Bay Area for use at Giants, A’s, Sharks and Warriors games. It’s worth somewhere from $6-$8 million dollars, and the inside looks like a cross between an office and the inside of the Star Trek Enterprise.
The 30+ monitors on one side take up an entire wall and include shots from numerous cameras, including a few from those used by the visiting broadcast crew.
Most of the monitors are split into four different screens, enough to cause sensory overload but not as visually intimidating as the section of buttons and switches underneath.
In the center of the wall there are a group of main screens that are labeled. I may have gotten some of these wrong, but here’s what my notes say:
- Camera 1: Giants dugout
- Camera 3: Splash Cam (view from upper deck on the first base line)
- Camera 4: Center field
- Camera 5: Visitor’s dugout
- Camera 6: X-MO (stationed between home and first base)
- Camera 7: Roaming camera (usually located somewhere near Amy G.)
Those are just the most commonly used shots — there are at least seven others Director Jim Lynch can choose from.
Lynch got his start as a cameraman in 1986 and became a videotape (remember those?) operator several years later. Now he decides what Giants fans see at any given moment, monitoring several camera angles at once. I sat in his chair a few hours before first pitch, trying to make some sense of all the different lenses through which he’d watch the game in a few hours. Lynch told me to play around with the Atari-like joystick in front of me.
I made the camera stationed in the second deck behind third base move around shakily for a little bit, which was fun. I’ve never been all that great at video games, but I’m a big fan of nostalgia.
The crew members busily working in the truck at about a quarter past four had been there at least three hours. Some were tasked with figuring out stat graphics, which include info from a downloadable package of numbers sent daily from Elias Sports Bureau, and whatever Graphics Coordinator Mike Rosenthal and Duet (graphics) Operator Erik Fisher come up with.
On this night, they had graphics ready for viewer consumption on several statistical topics, with two important Giants-centric notes leading the way. Jake Peavy was eight strikeouts away from 2,000 for his career, and Bruce Bochy was a win away from tying Tommy Lasorda’s record for wins by a manager in the NL West.
However, no milestones would occur on this night. Only weirdness.
After about a half hour in the truck and a quick bite to eat in the media dining room, I was invited over to a table with four men who shoot the action on the field and in the stands. Dave “Benny” Benzer handles the camera in the visiting dugout (low first), while Mike “Rusty” Phillips does the same in the Giants’ dugout (low third). Samer Zarour roams the park with his camera (covering about five miles per game, according to Amy G.), while Mike Muldowney is on Splash Cam duties.
The camera crew has been around forever, just like almost everyone else, so it’s no surprise that they tend to finish each other’s sentences when talking about how much high definition technology and the new “X-Mo” cameras have changed things. When huge moments happen, they get an adrenaline rush not unlike what the on-field participants feel. And as you can tell from the number of Giants hats seen on the camera guys, they’re pulling for great wins and moments. Since the camera crew has been together since the park opened, they’ve been fortunate enough to experience more than their fair share.
“There’s amazing parts of baseball that we got to film,” said Muldowney, who listed Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter, Matt Cain’s perfect game, all of the Barry Bonds milestones, and especially the World Series.
“We’d waited all our lives,” Muldowney said. “It was absolutely incredible.”
Something struck me during my tour — everyone who works on these game broadcasts calls them “shows,” including the camera operators. And one of this particular group’s specialties is finding fun in the mundane. Each baseball season is long, and it’s not all perfect games, diving catches and long homers. Sometimes Juan Gutierrez is on the mound, walking guys and taking 20 seconds between pitches. That gives the crew plenty of time to focus on the stuff the announcers like talking about almost as much as baseball.
“I have to credit our director (Lynch),” said Benzer. “He gives us a longer leash in that department. I think that’s what makes this show great … this show is unlike any other. And we have the best announcers in the game.”
Anyone who watches enough of these games knows how Kuiper and Krukow seize on non-baseball moments. The kid with cotton candy stuck to his face and hands, people partying on boats in McCovey Cove, some dude in the stands wearing a horse’s head on top of his own — everything is fair game. Krukow gives his enthusiastic approval of whatever’s going on, and Kuiper, in his trademark deadpan style, tosses out a punchline right before they cut back to the action.
“We’re laughing hard,” Muldowney said. “We’ll show something in the stands that has nothing to do with whatever’s going on in that moment. They’ll come back to that storyline. Because they know us and we know them. Some shows, not as good a reaction.”
With that, the camera crew got up and headed out to their respective posts and I made the short walk over to the broadcast booth.
Kruk and Kuip
Everyone on the CSN Bay Area Giants broadcast team gets along extremely well. That’s something that can’t be faked when people are together for the better part of two decades on a near-daily basis, even in “show” business. Duane Kuiper works with his brother, Producer Jeff Kuiper, who sits next to Lynch and makes sure every part of the broadcast goes off without a hitch. Glen Kuiper calls A’s games for CSN California.
But Duane Kuiper seems to also have a brother from another mother. Kuiper and Krukow were teammates as players, they’ve called games together since the early ’90s, and they’re still inseparable.
“The two of us, when we’re on the road, we’ll get coffee. Go on a walk and have lunch. The topic is always baseball,” said Krukow.
“The most fun we have is when we’re on the road, when the four of us (K&K, plus Jon Miller and Dave Flemming) get a chance to have a dinner out after a day game. That usually turns into a three-hour horse laugh.”
After spending a good portion of the day checking headlines and box scores and talking ball, the announcers make a point to watch batting practice. Then it’s time for work, at a job both men see as an extension of their playing days.
“The game kind of tells its own story. I think that’s what we try and do is identify with what’s going on. Every day the ballpark plays different, weather conditions play different. The strike zone’s different. Every day the pitcher goes out there and he may have five things he can do, but maybe two or three of those aren’t working. Maybe his type of style is going to beat a particular style of a hitter on the other team,” said Krukow.
“We’re old players and we kind of see those things. We look at the game up here the same way we did from the dugout.”
The game is still a game. From what I could tell that evening, the only part of the job that seems like actual work is fitting in all the different advertising segments and plugs (more on that later). Then there’s the aforementioned silly stuff, which they seem to live for.
“If they spot a kid picking his nose, we’re going to see it. And we’re going to have a lot of fun with it. They know that. And they look for odd stuff like that. We’re really lucky because we’ve had our same guys for a long time,” Kuiper said.
“We’re all about the same age. It’s pretty amazing how long we’ve all been together. This goes back over 20 years, to 1993. We ask them, ‘When are you guys gonna quit?’ And they say, ‘Well, when are you gonna quit?’ We don’t want to quit. ‘Neither do we!’ So it’s a pretty cool deal. And we don’t take it for granted,” said Krukow.
“Nobody on this crew ever hopes to get a short ballgame. It pisses us off when people say that, when they pass us in the hallway and say, ‘Hope we get a quick one.’ What else would you rather do? That’s kind of how we roll. We’re proud of each other. We’re proud of what we have. It’s fun going to work.”
Here’s a list of things Amy Gutierrez (who got her start with CSN as a producer, and covered the A’s before joining the Giants broadcast team) does during a normal game.
- Arrives at 2:30 (for games that start at 7:15)
- Covers Bruce Bochy’s pregame media session
- Writes and delivers a report a few minutes before first pitch based on the day’s news
- Fills in with a video segment or two when Andrew Baggarly is off
- Doesn’t always get to eat (“And I’m a big supporter of dinner,” Gutierrez said.)
- Walks an average of three miles per game around AT&T Park (her group never takes the elevator, either)
- Keeps score every game
- Covers Bochy’s postgame session and is often seen asking players questions in the clubhouse
That last note is an area where I’ve noticed Gutierrez the most. After games — especially tough losses — no one wants to break the ice in a deathly silent clubhouse with any sort of question, let alone one that might set a player off. But Gutierrez has a knack for bringing up the elephant in the room without causing the scene to get too tense.
“The first year I started (2008), we had to get an interview win or lose. That was intimidating for me. They lost all the time. I think that’s where I gained respect from the players because I went in there no matter what,” Gutierrez said.
“You can ask the exact same thing differently and get a different response. I do try and go with the positive first before I go with the negative.”
After a short chat with Amy G. in the dugout, it was back to the truck for first pitch.
“Three … two … one … and we’re up!”
(CSN Bay Area symbol … dun, dun, dunnnnnnn sounder)
The Giants return home with revenge on their mind,” says the Kuiper voiceover.
From there, it was bam-bam-bam, with stuff happening so quickly it was hard to keep track. At least that’s how I felt while sitting in the only vacant chair in a small row behind Kuiper, Lynch and Technical Director Simon Benazra. When Lynch and Kuiper want something done, Benazra is the one who manipulates that complicated panel of buttons and switches and makes their wishes come true.
“I’m just an extension of their brilliance,” Benazra told me.
After Gutierrez filed her report on Hunter Pence, Rusty gets a shot of Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan doing a choreographed dance as they head to commercial. Both Benny and Rusty agreed that once you gain the respect of the players, they’ll let you film moments like those in the dugouts. It cuts both ways, too. If players act like annoyed celebrities fending off the paparazzi, the camera operators don’t need to give them an extra opportunity to relate to the viewing public. There’s always something else to film.
“Anybody out there in the cove?” asks Lynch a minute or so before first pitch. Muldowney swings his camera over to McCovey Cove — nothing. The days of canoes and other assorted watercraft packing that space on Monday nights vanished with Bonds.
Replays have been a part of televised sports coverage for a long time, but there’s some added importance to what Replay Operators John Ward & Don Amundsen do these days. Instant replay wouldn’t be possible without the work of the camera and replay operators, and there was a replay opportunity on the very first at-bat of the game. Charlie Blackmon hit a grounder to Joe Panik, whose throw pulled Buster Posey off the bag … or did it?
Ron Wotus gave the thumbs down from the dugout, so Bochy let it go. But the play almost certainly would’ve been overturned if Bochy called for a review. Blackmon would later score on a sacrifice fly. Peavy went insane, as per usual.
As the Giants came up in the bottom of the first, the camera operators, announcers and Lynch were all in sync — a cute little girl with Giants leggings was in the stands. “She’s styling,” said Krukow, who can be seen in the truck on a screen devoted to the two announcers, tossing a baseball from one hand to another for the entire game.
“You’ve got to have the leggings,” responded Kuiper.
Pagan led off the game with a double and a salute, and Posey singled him in to tie the game. Pretty standard stuff, right? But I was almost dizzy after Posey’s hit, as Lynch went from camera 4 to camera 10 to camera 2 to camera 147 (give or take). I have to be honest, I lost track.
I’ll never watch a baseball game the same way again after this experience. It seemed so easy before. Pitcher throws ball. Batter hits ball. Camera shows fielder catching and throwing ball. Repeat for about three hours. But for as free and loose as the show is, it’s pretty regimented. Not only are there so many angles from which to view each play, but each rejoinder comes with some sort of promotion, either from a sponsor or the Giants. My favorite is Krukow describing a newscast on a local Spanish-language station. Associate Producer Dan Peterson calls out the time remaining on commercials, along with each spot to be read by Krukow or Kuiper.
Once a pitcher has the ball, Lynch might make a half dozen moves before the ball is even released. Show the Giants dugout. Quick shot of some fans in the stands. Closeup of the pitcher. Closeup of the hitter. View from behind home plate as the pitcher starts his motion. Back to Camera 4.
Replays are important, but they don’t take priority over the action. When Andrew Susac took Tyler Matzek deep to center in the second inning, Lynch went to a shot of the crowd behind the Giants dugout. Then he cut to Susac’s trot, from his handshake with Tim Flannery until receiving congratulations in the dugout. A few more crowd shots of happy fans, THEN a replay. According to Lynch, he doesn’t want to lose any real-time moments in favor of replays they can show an infinite number of times throughout the rest of the inning and game.
Everyone in the truck agreed that baseball is the most difficult sport to broadcast, because you never know what’ll come up. Plays can happen anywhere, and the crowd plays a bigger role in baseball than all the other major sports — and not just the paying customers either. Will Clark was in the crowd, and the nearby mic was hot. “Be careful!” Lynch warned. (The crew had that nightmare come to life during Hunter Pence’s speech on Thursday night.)
In talking to everyone, I heard a lot of technical jargon that went over my head. The gist: the move to digital has made a lot of the job elements easier and quicker, but a lot more is expected. The X-Mo feed, operated by Scott Hazen, is something the crew is particularly proud of. Pagan made a diving play on a sinking blooper at one point in the game, and X-Mo had it the whole way.
For CSN Bay Area, more X-Mo is the ultimate goal. The World Series X-Mo cameras run by Fox can get 4,000 frames per second. CSN’s X-Mo camera grabs 1,000 per second during day games and about 240 when it’s dark. Look for CSN to add to their X-Mo platform in upcoming seasons. I asked about extras like PITCHf/x, which shows where pitches cross through the zone. ESPN and Fox have their own proprietary ways of capturing and displaying that data on each pitch, and that’s a feature that costs a ton of money. In other words, we’ll probably see it sooner on local broadcasts if more people clamor for it.
Midway through the game I stepped inside the sound booth, located between the area with all the screens and the replay command center on the other side of the truck (which is expandable, and definitely bigger than a standard RV).
The sound room, interestingly enough, is kind of quiet. Garrett Knapp (no relation to Gwen) has been running the sound on Giants games since 2007. AT&T Park has microphones for TV use on the foul poles, in the bullpens, and behind first base, third base and home plate. He also has 18 different sound effects at his disposal, including music (like “Bye Bye Baby”) for promos and highlights.
I went back to my seat in the seventh inning, just in time to see a shot of a toddler grabbing his father’s Giants hat and sticking it into his mouth.
“That’s alright,” said Krukow. “Tastes good.”
The stats guys had a graphic ready to roll showing Peavy’s terrible run support up to that point in the season. And what do you know, Peavy allowed three runs (one earned) while the Giants were shut out from the second inning on in a 3-2 loss — a game that may have been the Giants’ sloppiest of the year.
After a throwing error on Brandon Crawford and a single that was followed by a second throwing error by Crawford, Peavy balked in the game-tying run in the fourth. An infield single and a sac fly gave the Rockies a 3-2 lead, which ended the scoring for both teams. However, the seventh inning was crazy just the same.
With two outs, Peavy gave up a single to D.J. LeMahieu and walked Matzek. Peavy was fuming over a 2-2 pitch that was called a ball by home plate umpire Doug Eddings during that plate appearance, and he lost it after Blackmon singled to Pence, leading to a play at the plate. LeMahieu was called safe, which created a pretty entertaining scene. Bochy came out to challenge the play, and ended up having to separate Peavy from Eddings in the process.
Krukow and Kuiper have a button they can push so anything they say isn’t heard over the air. If either announcer has a question or a problem, their voices can be heard loud and clear in the truck. Krukow wanted to know if the crew thought of the play.
Not only did the crew in the truck have to worry about getting all the replay angles right, there was an on-field argument to show. Not all the angles looked conclusive, but the call was overturned and LeMahieu was called out after two minutes and 48 seconds. Then Bochy got tossed an inning later for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. Lynch went to “double box” to show Bochy and Eddings at the same time.
The game ended with a thud, and there was a palpable sense of “bummer” in the truck. I was happy to have witnessed the game from an entirely new point of view. But like the camera operators and the announcers, everyone there, from Kuiper and Lynch to ScoreBug Operator Jennifer Gonzalez, wants the Giants to win. And who can blame them? Winning leads to better shows, and more of them.
Thanks to everyone who made this possible — CSN Bay Area Senior Director of Communications Jay dela Cruz for inviting me and setting up the visit, Senior Executive Producer David Koppett for being my tour guide and answering all of my silly questions, Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper and Amy Gutierrez for graciously taking the time to talk just a few minutes before going on the air, Jim Lynch and Jeff Kuiper for making me feel so welcome in the truck, and everyone else listed here:
Technical Director Simon Benazra
Associate Producer Dan Peterson
ScoreBug Operator Jennifer Gonzalez
Graphics Coordinator Mike Rosenthal
Duet (graphics) Operator Erik Fisher
Audio Garrett Knapp
EVS Operator Tom Hunter
X-Mo Operator Scott Hazen
Replay Operators John Ward & Don Amundsen
Camera Operators Mike Phillips (Giants dugout), Dave Benzer (visiting dugout), Mike Muldowney (Splash Cam)
Stage Manager Grady Leaver
Stats Dan Martinez
Truck engineers Robert Reeves and Carlos Rodriguez.