Legendary broadcaster Bob Costas was intrigued to meet Jason Benetti 10 years ago for several reasons.
Costas and the new White Sox play-by-play man share an alma mater, Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. And Costas appreciates and respects how Benetti has dealt with his disability.
But the admiration Costas — one of several fabled broadcasters whom the Homewood-Flossmoor product considers a mentor — has for Benetti extends beyond their initial connections. And Costas thinks the abilities that Benetti possesses make him a perfect hire for the White Sox.
“They’re getting one of the best young broadcasters around, getting someone who not only has talent, but who loves and understands the craft,” Costas told CSNChicago.com. “And because of his pretty close to unique circumstances, he is deeply appreciative of everything that this means. He appreciates and understands the history of the craft, he understands the history of the game and he understands and appreciates that he now has a chance to be a part of it.
“Yes, it’s a career move. But it’s more than that. He appreciates it on a personal level.”
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The career of Costas - who attended Newhouse - has spanned more than 40 years. Having worked more high-profile events than one could keep track of, the 26-time Emmy Award winner has met his share of ambitious young announcers.
Benetti stood out immediately.
Of course there’s the Newhouse connection, a network of alums that looks out for one another (Mike Tirico and Sean McDonough are also Syracuse products and Benetti mentors). And Benetti was up front that he was born with Cerebral Palsy, which distinguished him, Costas said.
But Benetti’s talent is the real draw, Costas said.
“What struck me about him as a broadcaster was he had very good command of language,” Costas said. “Some people have the same couple dozen ways to describe things and that’s that. With him there’s a great deal of variety.
“His powers of description are better than the average person, especially starting out.
“Early on he had that knack.”
Benetti remembers the first time Costas called.
“When he said ‘Hello,’ he didn’t even have to say his name,” Benetti said. “He’s so distinctive. It’s beautiful.”
Benetti describes his mentors, a group that includes Costas, Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper, McDonough, Ian Eagle and Tirico, as “aim-higher people” who offered both encouragement and feedback.
“Those people in that group … basically said, ‘Be you and do great work and here is how I would like to help,'" Benetti said.
Early in his career, Costas received assistance in several forms.
Syracuse professor Stan Alten offered critical feedback - “even after I was at NBC, through the mid-80s, I would hear from him,” Costas said. And previous bosses, namely KMOX’s Bob Hyland and NBC’s Dick Ebersol, instilled the confidence Costas needed when they took chances and hired him.
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Familiar with Benetti’s work for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, Costas knew Benetti didn’t need much critical assistance. He thought Benetti mostly needed more repetitions to hone his style.
“What he needed more than anything else was encouragement and occasional feedback,” Costas said. “He didn’t really need someone to tell him, ‘Do this. Don’t that.' He already kind of understood it.”
What has impressed Costas perhaps most are the work ethic and preparation, the respect for his role and how Benetti has handled his disability. That combination, along with his vocabulary and delivery, has Costas confident about Benetti’s future with the White Sox.
“He acknowledges it, but he minimizes it simultaneously,” Costas said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, here it is. It’s not holding me back. If that reality inspires anyone else, than so much the better. But I don’t want it to be the very first and only thing people think about when they think about me.’ And his work has assured that’s going to be the case.”
“His background makes him an interesting story. But his talent and quality of craftsmanship are what make him the right choice.”