Work ethic makes for good TV from Juipers
 

By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
 

This feature was published on USAToday.com on June 21, 2006


SAN FRANCISCO — In the fourth inning of an early June game between San Francisco and the Florida Marlins, TV play-by-play man Duane Kuiper tells the Giants audience the broadcast will cut away for a recap of the Oakland Athletics' game.
From Cleveland, baby brother and A's play-by-play announcer Glen Kuiper describes how Eric Chavez's two-run homer helped Oakland defeat the Indians in another production shown by Fox Sports Net Bay Area. He then tosses it back to Duane in San Francisco.

The exchange is coordinated by middle brother Jeff, who's producing the later game from a truck just outside San Francisco's AT&T Park.

At the family farmhouse in Sturtevant, Wis., on the outskirts of Racine, father Henry Kuiper watches the Giants game and doesn't think twice about having two of his sons talking to each other over the air. To him this is just another game they're calling, among the hundreds he has watched.

Baseball has a tradition of sons following fathers into the booth. Jack and Joe Buck. Harry, Skip and Chip Caray. Marty and Thom Brennaman.

The Kuipers have set a different family path — begun with Duane's 12-season major league career — as the only such trio working Major League Baseball telecasts, according to FSN and the Giants. Their brotherly bonds are just as tight as those of announcing fathers and sons, but they grew up in an environment considerably less conducive to broadcasting careers.

Unless countless hours spent atop a tractor qualify as a primer for TV work.

"Those guys watched their father from a very small age be an announcer," Glen, 43, says days before his father arrives for this weekend's A's-Giants series. "We watched our father from a very young age work his butt off."

The brothers and sister Kathy, the owner of a hair salon just outside Milwaukee, grew up on a 300-acre farm where their father, a former fast-pitch softball player, raised dairy cows before switching to beef cattle and grains. Their mother, Annette, who died in 1992, cooked three meals a day, all eaten at the family table, and ran a tight household.

Whether farming or sports was the predominant theme depends on who's telling the story, but there's no doubt both were tightly intertwined in the family fabric, as was the importance of working hard. The brothers can't recall a day when they didn't have some farm work to do.

"Cry and moan as we did, we were out there," says Duane, 56. "It developed work ethic, and it also developed excuses on why we didn't want to do it. We came up with some lame ones, too."

Planning for a second career

Dairy farmers generally don't like to have other people milk their cows, a procedure that needs to be done twice a day, so the Kuipers didn't travel much.

The first time Henry and Annette saw a mountain was on a family drive to Reno to see Duane play in a minor league game. He went on to a big-league career as an infielder with the Indians and Giants.

"Definitely, baseball was the centerpiece," says Jeff, 49. "The first vacations I can remember going on were baseball-related to see Duane play. The first flight I ever took on an airplane was to go to the College World Series, to Omaha, because Duane was playing."

Through his baseball career and later in broadcasting, Duane blazed a trail that led to the brothers reuniting in the Bay Area. Those who know them say that was inevitable.

"I don't know if I've ever seen three brothers that are closer than these guys," says TV director Jim Lynch, who has worked alongside Jeff for almost 20 years. "If one of them moved to Iceland, I think they would all move to Iceland."

Duane, a career .271 hitter who famously finished with only one home run in 3,379 at-bats, dabbled in small-time radio when he was with the Indians from 1974-81, then paired with Joe Morgan on a pregame show after being traded to the Giants before the 1982 season.

Both moved to a new television venture, Giants Vision, in 1986, the year after Kuiper retired as a player. Except for a one-year stint with the Colorado Rockies in 1993, Kuiper has been calling Giants games on over-the-air TV (now KTVU), cable and radio since.

He has partnered with former pitcher Mike Krukow for the last 16 years, forming what Sports Illustrated described last December as "the best broadcasting team in baseball."

Kuiper even made his way into the Hall of Fame with his call of Barry Bonds' 715th career home run — "Bonds hits one high. Hits it deep to center. Out of here, 715" — sent to Cooperstown. The radio call of the moment Bonds passed Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list was silenced due to a technical glitch.

Jon Miller, who calls Giants games on KTVU with Krukow and on radio with Kuiper when not doing ESPN's Sunday night broadcast, says he appreciates the passion both bring to the game. "Never once in all these years have I heard either of them say, 'Let's hope for a quick game tonight.' " Miller says.

Finishing each other's thoughts

Jeff Kuiper's baseball career didn't advance past college. But he remains a student of the game and its history.

Jeff, who holds a masters degree in sports administration from Kent State, landed a job with This Week in Baseball in 1983 through a contact of Duane's. Three-and-a-half years later he joined Giants Vision as a producer.

His working relationship with Duane is so effortless that one can literally finish the other's sentences. From the truck, Jeff will remind him of a promo and Duane picks it right up, sometimes sounding like an echo because their voices are so alike.

Before a recent game, Duane was telling a story of their dad always promising the kids he would take them to a nearby lake if the temperature reached 95 degrees.

As Jeff walks by, Duane asks him what the required temperature reading was. "Ninety-five," Jeff says without hesitation. "Something that hasn't happened in Wisconsin in like the last 30 years but for three or four times."

Adds Duane: "We spent half our summers looking at the thermometer — 91, 92. And he would eventually take us anyway."

Youngest out on his own

The brothers, whom have all won multiple Northern California Emmys, enjoyed several seasons working together beginning in 1992, when Glen started doing a few Giants pregame shows. His responsibilities expanded to sideline reporting and postgame interviews, and he branched out to the NFL, NBA, NHL and college basketball.

After playing two years as a middle infielder in the low minors for the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-'80s, Glen completed his degree in broadcasting at San Francisco State. He worked a number of odd jobs, including keeping stats on the Candlestick Park scoreboard.

His familiarity with the TV folks, his background and constant presence at the ballpark earned him an on-camera opportunity.

The trio split up in 2004 when Glen moved across the Bay to do play-by-play for the A's. He's their lead TV announcer, calling 88 games a season for FSN and KICU.

The job change keeps him from seeing much of his brothers during the season, but it has allowed Glen to establish his identity.

"Over there with the Giants, I was Duane's little brother," he says. "I'm not Duane's little brother with the A's. I am one of the A's broadcasters."

Farming for a new line of work

Much as he did when they played, their father, 81, watches all their games. He has no regrets that none of his kids went into farming. He planted his last crop two years ago and enjoyed working the land, a family occupation passed down from his parents, who emigrated from Holland.

He had to help out from a young age and didn't go to high school, so he didn't want his kids to miss out on an education. He was an athlete, too, an accomplished fast-pitch softball player who pitched into his 40s.

"We see a lot of cases where the farmer's sons don't really want to farm, but they kind of get pushed into it. That really doesn't last," he says. "If they're doing something worthwhile and something they like, let them go."

For the Kuipers, that endeavor has been baseball broadcasting, a rather improbable turn of events given their background.

"When you sit on a tractor for eight hours by yourself, you think about a lot of different things," Glen says. "But I never thought about working in the TV business with both my brothers.

 


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