Smuin's Weston Krukow and his well-known dad
By Lou Fancher
When Smuin Ballet dancer Weston Krukow crackles with electric energy in choreographer Helen Pickett's "Petal" or abandons himself into the emotional expression of "Ask Me," Adam Hougland's world premiere, as part of Smuin's "Unlaced" at the Lesher Center on May 29-30, his dad will be front and center, watching ballet's equivalent to major league baseball.
"Dad" is the San Francisco Giants' beloved broadcaster Mike Krukow, now in his 23rd season. Toting seven Emmy Awards, the pedigree of a 14-season MLB pitching career with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and the Giants -- and often enough, a ukulele or guitar -- "Kruk" is discovering a whole new game.
"There are so many parallels between ballet and baseball," Mike Krukow said. "Controlling your weight distribution, maintaining and repeating rhythm. In today's MLB, you have to have utility players who can play five or six positions. The footwork is a different dance at each position."
Weston Krukow, 25, is the youngest of five children that Kruk says "are each a different book." Growing up in the Krukow family meant that batting was like breathing. "Baseball was absolutely a part of my childhood," Weston said. "I went to the Candlestick Park nursery. I played baseball until sixth grade."
But although his dad says his son "dutifully picked up a mitt," Krukow rarely picked up a bat between games. Instead, Krukow remembers returning to their San Luis Obispo home and dancing.
"I'd give performances in the entry hallway that dropped down to the music room. There was seating below and I was on the wood floor above, with Britney Spears and NSYNC. I had no idea what I was doing."
In the audience -- his family -- there was only admiration.
"Once Little League was over, we encouraged him to dance," Mike Krukow said. "He went to one school and there were no boys, so that stopped it. At a talent show a year later, he just crushed it. He stole the show. He went to a different school and found his passion. The whole journey has been a real eye-opener."
Weston said deciding to study dance while in middle school resulted in the inevitable bullying. "School was hard because kids did tease me," he said. "But I spent most of the day surrounded by people who loved me, so I never doubted myself."
Dance was an escape until his senior year in high school, when he took a year off and thought he might pursue Future Farmers of America. Learning to teach kids about agriculture and how to care for pigs seemed like a great opportunity, but Weston said he'd still go home, turn on the radio and dance.
The inner drive that used to fire up when the family would watch "Riverdance" on television and cause Weston to "just light up and dance while everyone laughed and cheered" was eventually rekindled. He attended the University of Arizona, graduating with a degree in dance and earning another note of respect from his dad.
"I played pro ball for 17 years so I did blow out," the elder Krukow said. "I wound up having three surgeries. We have a lot in common."
While dancing, Weston suffered debilitating back injuries that left him with sciatic pain he describes as "a dull roar" that sent him into surgery in 2012. But having watched his dad deal with inclusion-body myositis, a degenerative muscle disease that causes progressive weakness in specific muscles, Weston said, "I just knew I had the fight, the will, and the perseverance because I see that in him everyday. Music is what brings him back out of pain. To know where your 'reset' is, is so important."
"I'm on a cane now," his dad said. "The muscles are about gone. I still have the use of my hands and I travel with an instrument on every trip. I'm afraid that if I stop playing, I'll lose the ability."
Weston said that even if his dad stops strumming the guitar, their conversations about the similarities of dancing and playing baseball will roll along like a pas de deux, a dance for two -- or like the dance between a pitcher and a catcher.
"There's wonderful teamwork when a pitcher and a catcher are trying to outsmart a batter. That's a physical feat that's just like two dancers working together. Fielding rhythm and the stretch of a baseball player, the anticipation of where a ball might go -- it's ballet. That's what people come to see."
The Krukows say their new hobby -- seeing the ballet in baseball and vice versa -- is fun, and as they age, an activity that will never grow old.