After the White Sox hired him, the first call Jason Benetti made was to his parents, of course, which resulted in nearly an hour of joyous tears from his mother.
But it didn’t take long for the team’s new play-by-play TV announcer to inform Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper of what he describes as “surreal” news.
Following a laborious search that spanned several months and involved calls to numerous candidates and industry insiders -- Kasper included -- the White Sox announced Wednesday that Benetti would split broadcast duties next season with veteran announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson.
Headed into his 32nd season with the White Sox, Harrelson -- who along with analyst Steve Stone received a multi-year contract extension -- has reduced his workload and will call 81 games, with all but three coming on the road.
Benetti, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School grad who grew up a White Sox fan, is set to call 81 games, including 78 at home. After he spoke to White Sox vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer early in the process, Kasper believes the team made the correct call.
“They got it totally right,” Kasper said. “He’s got a great voice, great delivery, incredibly intellectual, willing to learn. He’s just a great, great human being.
“It won’t take long for White Sox fans really to grab on to Jason and his quirky sense of humor. He grew up here and he was a White Sox fan. It’s not just that he’s a really good broadcaster, but this means a lot to him on a personal level.”
A graduate of Syracuse University and the Wake Forest School of Law, Benetti has nearly six seasons as an announcer for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. Since 2011, Benetti, 32, has also announced college sports at ESPN.
When the White Sox first contacted him, Benetti, who emulated the swing of Frank Thomas in backyard Whiffle Ball games -- “not very well,” he said -- and was a big Robin Ventura fan, tried not to get his hopes up. He didn’t want to focus too much on what he thought was a long shot. But as he realized his chances were strong, Benetti remembers thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. This might actually happen.’
“When I was a kid, my parents would just sometimes on a whim just say, ‘We are going to go to a Sox game,” Benetti said. “To sit in the booth the other day was bizarre to see the field from that angle. It’s awesome. It’s really awesome. It means the world to me.”
So does his relationship with Kasper, one of several broadcasting mentors along with Bob Costas, Ian Eagle and Sean McDonough. The two first exchanged emails in January 2011. But Benetti, who was born with cerebral palsy, was particularly intrigued by Kasper’s June 2014 story about dealing with anxiety.
“I wrote him a letter about it and I sent him a tape and he’s written me back with specific feedback and encouraged me to aim higher,” Benetti said.
When Boyer called in October, Kasper, one of several broadcasters queried, had Benetti at the top of his list.
But he wasn’t alone. And although being a White Sox fan wasn’t a prerequisite, it didn’t hurt Benetti’s chances, either.
“Jason was on almost every single one of those lists,” Boyer said. “When you look at work ethic and the passion for connecting with fans, all the things that kind of checked our box, Jason has them all.”
One aspect Benetti is expected to bring is an understanding for advanced metrics, which Kasper has encouraged -- “He’s not afraid to use statistics that need a little explaining,” Benetti said. Benetti hopes to mix metrics into the conversation while also relying on the analysis and storytelling ability of his partner, Stone. How Benetti works has impressed Kasper from the outset.
“I heard his work and just thought he was immediately good,” Kasper said. “I hear from a lot of young broadcasters and some are good, some are developing, some you’re trying to kind of find what it is you really like. With him it’s just instant. I just thought he was a big league talent from Day One.”
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Following their introduction, Kasper has invited the young broadcaster to the ballpark several times and has constantly pushed him to “aim higher,” Benetti said. Though he didn’t expect the news, Kasper isn’t surprised.
“When he called the other day and told me this is going to happen, I felt as happy for him as I did for myself when I got different jobs along the way,” Kasper said.
Of course, he’s happy, Benetti said.
“He has made it clear that I am buying dinner the first time,” Benetti said. “He is somebody that has basically said, ‘Be you and do great work and here is how I would like to help.’ So I owe him more than he even knows.”