New White Sox broadcaster Benetti excited for debut

New White Sox broadcaster Benetti excited for debut

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jason Benetti doesn't swing a bat. He doesn't go through infield drills or throw fastballs during bullpen sessions.

But the 32-year-old, who officially takes his place among the White Sox television broadcast team Saturday in Mesa, Ariz., for a Cactus League game against the Cubs, understands the feel of Spring Training.

"They work all offseason, and it's like, 'Put me on the field and let me play against something,'" said Benetti, speaking at the White Sox Camelback Ranch complex. "That's how I feel right now: 'Let me get out there.'"

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Benetti takes over as the television play-by-play announcer for White Sox home games -- aside from the opener on April 8 against the Indians and the two games against the Cubs from July 25-26. He'll split the broadcast time with Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the colorful and venerable announcer who will spend his 32nd season in the booth almost exclusively on the road.

The preparation has been intense for Benetti, who was born with cerebral palsy and has inspired countless others with his success. He visited Glendale for 3 1/2 days earlier in Spring Training before returning to his job on Big 10 and Big 12 college basketball games. Benetti has talked to players, coaches and front-office members. He has read through all sorts of sources, from websites to media guides.

Benetti had dinner with director Jim Angio on Wednesday night, and he has talked to television analyst Steve Stone once or twice each week. Even with all of that leg work, Benetti can't guess what will come up until he works his first game.

"Everybody says to me, 'What questions do you have for me?' And I pride myself on being able to ask good questions," Benetti said. "But until you dive in, I think you are too new to ask the right questions, in terms of the crew.

"So I just want to get in and do a game. Then we can all reflect and say what worked and what didn't work."

Harrelson and Benetti talked extensively at SoxFest in late January, and they have talked briefly since. Benetti plans to call Harrelson after the first game and ask a simple question: "Hey, what did you think?"

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"For me, Hawk changed the baseball dictionary," Benetti said. "That's not something that I can do right away. It's a matter of doing your game. And you hear it with hitters -- let it come to you. Well, that's kind of what I have to do, too. That's basically the end of my cheesy baseball metaphors."

Growing up a White Sox fan in the southwest suburb of Homewood, Benetti began his career at WHFH-FM and the Viking Broadcasting Company at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He showed signs of possessing the necessary ability for this job years ago.

"What I really admired about Jason's work as a sports announcer -- you know, most of the kids that did the play-by-play and color stuff, they probably knew more about sports than I did," said Bob Comstock, who ran the broadcasting program at H-F High School. "So about all I could do to guide them was to pretend to be the listener at home trying to follow the game.

"Would what they are saying make sense? Would I be able to follow the play? It would seem like kids usually forget to tell us how much time was left, where the ball was. With radio, you have to be the eyes of the listener. I never had to do that with [Benetti]. He was so keen at describing the story in front of us as we were watching the game."

Friends from those high school days have checked in frequently with Benetti since he got the job, mainly because a story done by a local Chicago television station has been running recently in Chicago cabs. But even with these numerous surreal moments, Benetti believes the job won't have that real feeling until Saturday.

"What I think is actually going to happen -- and it's funny to say, but I think when we do 'Picks to Click' for the first time, I'm just going to be like, 'Really? I'm the one doing this?'" Benetti said. "'You at home select yours.' That's bizarre to me.

"SoxFest was crazy. There's Bo Jackson and there's Tom Paciorek and there's Willie Harris. But when I sit down and it's actually the game, it's going to be strange."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.