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Broadcasting reunites former Case stars

Broadcasting reunites former Case stars

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by peter jackel

Henry Kuiper's 240-acre Sturtevant spread remains very much as it was when he first started working the land some 44 years ago.

Walk out his back door and you'll see that same old white barn, the cluster of silos, the faded-red gas pump, the vast expanse of land stretching northward as far as the eye can see, another of the trusty Ford pickup trucks he's had over the years, a satellite dish …

A satellite dish?

Yes, this gentleman farmer's excursion into the high-tech world has been well worth the $1,500 cost and $120 annual fees. When he trudges back to his empty house from a day's work in the field (he was widowed in September 1992), that space-age contraption will bring his three sons into his living room from 2,000 miles away.

There's eldest son, Duane, coming into focus on Henry Kuiper's television as the San Francisco Giants' play-by-play man, working himself into a frenzy when Barry Bonds doubles into Candlestick's gap to drive home Matt Williams with the winning run.

Look closely now … yep, there's Jeff Kuiper's name under the title "producer" when the credits roll following another Giants telecast on SportsChannel, a Bay Area cable outlet.

And these days, Henry is able to catch youngest son Glen co-hosting a half-hour sports talk show on SportsChannel four nights a week.

"It's a little better than a phone call, although you can't talk with them," Henry said. "There's something that feels good about seeing them on TV."

As for the three Kuiper brothers, it's funny how this whole thing worked out. They each graduated from Case High School in different decades and as Glen noted, "I don't even remember being in the same house with Duane. When he was entering college (in 1968), I was entering kindergarten. He was always the older brother who was away."

Now the three brothers live within 45 minutes of each other in the Bay Area, get together regularly and work in the same field and for the same company.

"The TV business is a very hard business to get into," Glen said. "And to have three brothers not only in the TV business, but working in the same city, TV market and station is pretty unheard of."

Sleep was still in Duane Kuiper's eyes one morning recently when he sat down at his father's kitchen table for an interview during a brief stop home. What's more, he seemed to be preoccupied, doodling on a scrap of paper and keeping one eye on his 6-year-old son, Cole, who was darting in and out of the kitchen.

But that's just how he appeared. Duane would continue doodling and watching Cole, but he would speak in a clear resonant voice and give long, insightful answers to the questions he was asked.

This is someone who makes his living on the TV screen.

Duane started out with a five-minute radio show in 1977, when he was the Cleveland Indians' second baseman. He continued with various radio jobs as an active player with the Indians and, later, the San Francisco Giants. And in 1986, the year after he retired as a player (he finished with a .271 batting average for 12 major-league seasons), he got his break when he was hired to broadcast Giants games on cable television.

When the Giants announced during the 1992 season that they would be moving to St. Petersburg (that move would be negated after the season), Kuiper looked elsewhere for work and caught on with the expansion Colorado Rockies. They were a team that would lose 95 times, but as far as Kuiper was concerned, it was like broadcasting World Series games all season.

Baseball-starved fans in a sports-crazed city clicked the Mile High Stadium turnstiles more than four million times. And no lead was safe, nor was any deficit insurmountable, when you factored in how far baseballs carried in the light mountain air.

"We as broadcasters knew that the team was going to lose anywhere from 90 to 105 games," said Duane, 43, who was paired with veteran broadcaster Jack Buck. "So we had to take the approach that every game had to be just a little bit of the season. I know this sounds like a cliche, but if you took every game individually - and that's the way the Rockies fans did it - that was just like their mini World Series because they were so happy to have baseball there.

"We had games where the score would be 14-0 after the third inning and we thought, not only would people start turning off their TV set, but people in the ballpark would start going home. But that didn't happen. The ratings were exactly the same from the first inning through the ninth. And if there were 75,000 people at a blowout, not more than 1,000 people left. It was incredible."

It was almost too good to be true for Duane. But when the 1994 season rolls around, he will be back in San Francisco working Giants games on SportsChannel with former players Joe Morgan and Mike Krukow.

"Part of my contract with the Rockies was that we move there and become part of the community," said Duane, who also has a 4-year-old daughter, Dannon, with wife, Michelle. "We were all for that, but with the problems with real estate back in California, it looked like we were going to lose a good sum

of money on the house and I wasn't willing to take that big of a hit.

"By the time August rolled around, we had to put our kids back into school in California and it didn't look like we'd get to Denver until next year after school. Then, all of a sudden, the Giants inquired to the Rockies if they could talk to me. When that happened, we said, "Wait a minute - if we can stay and my position can be an upgrade rather than a lateral move, then we'll do that."'

Duane's new job will entail doing play-by-play on all 55 Giants games SportsChannel will telecast next season, plus color commentary on the 50-60 games San Francisco radio station KNBR will broadcast.

Considering the Giants won 103 games last season, came within a game of winning the National League's West Division and have probably baseball's best player in Bonds, Duane is not anticipating a dropoff in the excitement he experienced last season.

And he feels he will be more battle-tested after spending last season describing a team that was not successful on the field.

"A lot of times, what the team did a particular year can dictate whether you (a broadcaster) had a good year or not," said Duane, a 1968 Case graduate. "I can tell you the broadcasters in San Francisco last year had a great year because their team won 103 games.

"I think the true test of a real pro and a real good broadcaster is how did you do when the team had a so-so year. Because then you have to entertain."

While on the air next season, Duane Kuiper might be discussing a batting slump Robby Thompson is fighting when a voice inside his headset will crackle to life.

"Commercial break in 10 seconds, nine, eight, seven, six …" that voice will count off as Duane stays focused on Thompson.

The voice he hears will be his brother, Jeff.

Jeff, a 1975 Case graduate, is the Kuiper brother you probably know the least about. He was a decent basketball and baseball player at Case, but certainly nowhere near as accomplished an athlete as Duane or Glen. As Glen said, "Jeff's got all the brains in the family."

And Jeff's brains took him places. After earning a masters in Sports Administration at Kent State in the early 1980s, Jeff served an internship with the Cleveland Browns, was employed at a short-lived Cleveland sports cable station, worked himself into Major League Baseball Productions in New York (he produced "This Week in Baseball") and, in July 1987, he moved to San Francisco to do production work for GiantsVision (which would later evolve into SportsChannel).

Jeff's production work entails, "making sure we get our commericials in and keeping the sponsors happy," he said. "And I'll tell (Duane) what replays are coming and possibly what to look for in replays."

Jeff is spending the off-season designing statistical graphics that will appear on telecasts and editing Giants tapes into a highlight film for SportsChannel.

His role isn't nearly as glamorous as that of his brothers, but it's at least as fulfilling.

"Harry Coyle, the old NBC director, said the producer's responsibility is to get all the ingredients together for a telecast and then the director takes the ingredients and bakes the cake," Jeff said.

Jeff, who is an independent producer and, thus, is not actually employed by the Giants, is looking forward to having Duane back in his kitchen as one of the ingredients.

"I really didn't notice that much until Duane left last year," said the 36-year-old Jeff. "Then I thought, "Hey, we had a good thing going,' so it's good he's back."

While Glen, 30, fell short of following in Duane's footsteps as a major-leaguer, he managed to do so in television.

The 1981 Case graduate went off to pursue that first dream at the University of New Orleans, where he would become good friends with future major-leaguer Will Clark, then of Mississippi State.

He had flings in the farm systems of the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals from 1985-87, but by the winter of 1987-88, he returned to his father's farm to consider some other line of work.

In June of 1988, it was off to California, where he enrolled in San Francisco State's broadcasting school. And by the fall of '91, he was doing sideline reporting at college football games for SportsChannel.

"I knew people Jeff and Duane were working under, so I kind of knew who to talk to," Glen said.

By the spring of '92, he worked himself into a role of co-hosting the Giants' pre-game show for SportsChannel. Then, just a few months ago, he got the break of his life when SportsChannel started the Bay Area's version of ESPN's SportsCenter.

"They wanted a couple younger guys and guys they knew would be hard workers," said Glen, who co-hosts the show with Brian Webber. "It was the right fit. Instead of going out, they said, "Hey, we've got two guys right here."'

Glen has come a long way since the fall of 1980, when he was the soft-spoken senior quarterback on a Case football team that went 10-1. Like Duane, Glen immediately impresses you with his clear voice and thoughtful answers.

"It's kind of weird," Glen said. "I remember when I first started doing it, I was nervous and it takes awhile before you feel comfortable. It took me probably a year and a half.

"I tell people the most difficult thing is not what you're saying at the moment, but thinking about what you're going to say next. People ask, "What if you make a mistake?' And I say, "You can't.' You might make a statistical mistake, but as far as leaving yourself hanging, it hasn't happened to me yet."

Glen shared an apartment during last baseball season with his old friend, Will Clark, who recently left the Giants to sign as a free agent with the Texas Rangers. Glen never had him as a guest on his TV show, "but he's been on our pre-game show a number of times," Glen said.

"We always kind of chuckled right before the cameras went on, but he was always very professional. I told him once that anything we talked about in our living room, I would never tell another media member. I just had the need to tell him that.

"He will always be one of my favorite people. I got invited to his wedding in January, but I won't be able to go because of the TV show."

Jeff and Glen live within five minutes of each other in Burlingame, on the San Francisco side of the bay. Duane is about 40 miles due east in Blackhawk, near Oakland.

When that camera light blinks off for the day, the three brothers who once didn't know each other all too well often find themselves together.

"We have our most fun just maybe going over by Duane's on a Sunday afternoon and just hanging around," Glen said. "It's just a real simple group.

"That age difference has really narrowed a lot in the last few years."

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