There’s just something about baseball.
My love affair with the game began as a kid, largely in the form of a bonding agent between my father and myself. We would play catch, spend time at the park constructing a batting stance and go through my baseball cards together at night.
The Baltimore Orioles always played a significant role in this relationship, as even though we were Washingtonians, the Senators left town when I was 2 and the Nationals were still known as the Montreal Expos, so the Orioles were our team. We would listen to their games on the radio, catch some on television when they were being aired in the days before cable and enjoy sunny Saturday afternoons at Memorial Stadium.
The names I worshipped back then were Palmer, Murray, Dempsey, Flanagan, Belanger and, my favorite as a little kid, Al Bumbry. The son of the team’s thirdbase coach broke into the league when I was 12 years old, and he instantly became my new hero. Still is. Young fellow by the name of Cal Ripken, Jr.
Maybe you’ve heard of him.
And though I played just about every sport under the sun, nothing really compared to baseball for me. I loved going to practice, playing the games and learning from my coaches how to get better.
There were many Saturday mornings when one could find me watching Bugs Bunny and stuffing cereal down my throat at 7 a.m., with my uniform already on, even though our game didn’t start for another six hours. I would count down the minutes until “This Week in Baseball” would come on and I could see the highlights of the week, and explode with joy when the Orioles would make the reels.
So, yeah, I do know what it means to have a lifelong love affair with a team.
With that being said, a story on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” caught my attention the other night while I was trying to hose yogurt and blueberries off my daughter (I could say that’s a long story, but it’s really not). They were talking about Jason Benetti, a lifelong fan of the Chicago White Sox.
Apparently, Benetti wrote a paper in elementary school on how he would one day be the play-by-play announcer for his beloved White Sox. Now, at the incredibly young age of 32, Benetti will be doing just that for the White Sox, subbing for legendary announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson for 81 games this season.
“That’s pretty amazing,” I thought to myself, while trying to pry a blueberry out of my own ear. “There aren’t a lot of those jobs available, and to get the one you dreamt of your whole life while you’re only 32... this guy must be a star in the making.”
Of course, I had to do more research, and I found an article on the CSN Chicago website. That is the channel Benetti is working on this season (though I should have mentioned that much sooner in this column).
“Joining the White Sox television team of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone — with the chance to work with Steve on home games — is truly a dream come true for a kid who grew up in the south suburbs watching Sox games during the 1990s,” Benetti said. “This is beyond exciting for me.”
Before landing the gig, Benetti diligently worked his way up the ladder. He earned a degree in broadcast journalism at Syracuse University, has called college basketball, football, baseball and lacrosse at ESPN, and worked previously for Fox Sports 1, Westwood One Radio and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel. He has earned his stripes, through hard work and determination.
Oh yeah, I did forget to mention one thing: Benetti was born with cerebral palsy, and works with the “Just Say Hi” campaign launched by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
“The way I look or walk is such a small part of who I am as a person,” said Benetti. “I like to joke that, fortunately, I chose a profession where all I needed was my voice, not my legs. I have always felt that if I can help one other person, or if I can help change one person’s attitude about how they perceive others, then I have made a positive difference.”
There are so many lessons one could take from Benetti’s story. You could start with being born with cerebral palsy, and probably not being able to play the sport he so obviously loved on a very advanced level. Or you could look at the fact that these play-by-play jobs are incredibly hard to secure — just consider that there are only 30 teams in Major League Baseball, and the people who get these jobs often stay in it for decades. It is, mathematically, harder to get one of those jobs than to actually play professionally.
Benetti’s story shows us that dreams can come true — with some elbow grease and hard work — and that obstacles only exist for us to overcome them.