White Sox

As Hawk Harrelson ends legendary tenure, Jason Benetti gets to be voice of White Sox rebuild

As Hawk Harrelson ends legendary tenure, Jason Benetti gets to be voice of White Sox rebuild

The news that 2018 will be Hawk Harrelson’s final season in the White Sox broadcast booth dominated attention Wednesday night on the South Side.

But along with that comes the news that Jason Benetti received a multi-year extension with the team, and once Harrelson’s time officially ends next season, it will be Benetti who will be the play-by-play voice of the White Sox rebuild.

Benetti is already in his second season calling White Sox games, something he's alluded to as a dream job. But as the franchise begins a new chapter on the field, a new chapter in the broadcast booth will still be in its first few years.

“I am excited to see this team grow, I really am,” Benetti said while talking to the media Wednesday. “This is unbelievable timing considering the guys in that spring training clubhouse for the first time are there right around when I got there, so I can watch them as they grow as the fans will and get to know them from Day 1 and to do that with this new batch of players is an outstanding opportunity.”

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Of course, Benetti, who grew up watching the White Sox play, talked about his fellow broadcasts, Harrelson and Steve Stone as joys to work with. And he continued to reflect, much as he did ahead of last season, on what a special opportunity this is for him.

“This is amazing,” he said. “And to do it in conjunction with Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, guys you’ve watched for years and know what they do and there is a part of them inside of you, it’s pretty cool.

“Like I said when I got the job, the odds of something like this happening even for five games are so infinitesimally small that if you pin your life hopes to something like that you’re probably going to be disappointed. But yeah there is a piece of me that says you never think that this is going to happen, you actually lose the idea that it could happen considering what you see as an adult. And somehow it did.”

For the White Sox fan base as a whole, Harrelson’s exit will be bittersweet. There are many who loved laughing along with a man who is an entertainer as much as a play-by-play man. There are many who didn’t necessarily love his style, something that doesn’t bother Harrelson, who laughed Wednesday about receiving fan mail telling him that he stinks.

Count Benetti as a fan, though, someone who learned an important lesson from Harrelson that he’s applied to his own broadcasting career.

“The learning started years ago just watching baseball games. I used to go around elementary school doing a Hawk impersonation. I can (now), but I won’t,” he said to laughs. “He’s such a wonderful entertainer and person who loves the game so much, and to not feel that as a kid would mean I had a heart of stone. He is such an entertainer and lover of the game. To grow up watching Hawk made me realize you can have fun on the air and enjoy the game for what it is and beyond.”

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.