SAN FRANCISCO -- It doesn't take much nudging to get the best shortstop in Giants history to talk about his days as a high school quarterback, a lesson Duane Kuiper has learned over and over again since first meeting Brandon Crawford.
But Kuiper actually knew about Crawford's ability to scramble and find an open receiver long before he became a Giant.
Crawford was a star at Foothill High in Pleasanton, and because Cole Kuiper went to a rival high school at the same time, Duane watched Crawford carve up defenses before he went on to pursue his baseball dreams at UCLA. For the last 13 years, Kuiper has watched Crawford lead the Giants' defense, and on Thursday's "Giants Talk" podcast, he explained why he views Crawford as the ultimate "forever Giant." Above all, Kuiper has valued Crawford's durability at a key position.
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"I know there were many times where he was far from being 100 percent, but he played. It is, other than the catching spot, the most valuable spot on the diamond, and he needed to play and he did," Kuiper said. "And then of course you always remember that his first hit is a grand slam, the big grand slam in Pittsburgh in the wild-card game. All of those things stand out, but I think his steadiness and his athleticism at that position stood out every day.
"I mean, he made all the plays you had to make and then he was flashy -- he would make those sensational plays, whether he was going to his left or his right or charging the ball."
When Crawford takes the field Sunday, he'll be making his 1,654th appearance for the Giants and 1,528th start at shortstop. Every defensive inning of his career but one has been at shortstop, and in a perfect twist, the lone exception is his one inning on the mound earlier this year.
Crawford hoped to add to those numbers throughout this final homestand, but he strained his hamstring last week, and the Giants put him on the IL with the expectation that he could return for Game 162. There's no doubt about it at this point, and after taking groundballs on Wednesday, Crawford deemed himself ready to go.
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The 36-year-old has not made a decision about his future, but all involved are operating under the assumption that Sunday will be Crawford's last game in orange and black. It will be the end of an era for the franchise, too.
All of Crawford's teammates and coaches from the championship years have moved on, most to retirement. His closest friends on those teams, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, are in ownership and Toronto, respectively. Joe Panik is enjoying fatherhood. Madison Bumgarner is back home in North Carolina. Bruce Bochy is now managing the Texas Rangers.
Throughout the season, Crawford has been the last major link to the 2012 and 2014 champions. That will make Sunday a bit more emotional for some at the ballpark.
"Our fans look at him as a guy that meant a real lot to those last two world championships and even the series in 2016 when they very well could have gotten past the Cubs, and who knows," Kuiper said. "Our fans want to remember those championship years because it makes everybody just feel so good, and they didn't know those feelings for the longest time. So yeah, I think that's how our fans will look at Sunday, that it doesn't really close the book, but it's certainly the last chapter."
Crawford has spent 13 seasons mostly playing it cool on the field, in good times and bad, but he expects Sunday to be an emotional one. Regardless of what he decides this offseason, it will be the end of an era for a player who grew up going to Candlestick Park and one day soon will go on the Wall of Fame at Oracle Park.
"When it's all said and done, it's the local kid did good, basically," Kuiper said. "(There's) the classic picture of him as a five-year-old at Candlestick holding that sign that said 'don't leave,' and who would have thought that he goes on to be the greatest shortstop in this franchise's history? It's going to be a great day, and then it will be a sad day, assuming that he's not going to be back."