Jason Benetti grew up in the Chicago area following the White Sox. As he puts it, he barely left home as a kid, going on the occasional vacation to Elkhart Lake, Wis. His trip to Syracuse for college was the longest of his life. He was a broadcast student in college when All-Star outfielder Magglio Ordóñez left the White Sox for the Tigers as a free agent.
As Benetti prepared for his introduction Thursday as the new play-by-play voice of Tigers telecasts, he could relate to Maggs.
“I woke up,” Benetti said, “and the first name in my mind was Magglio Ordóñez. Because when Magglio Ordóñez left Chicago to go to Detroit, I was like, ‘What did he do?’
“And I, today, feel like I am some combination of that and, emotionally, Freddie Freeman. That’s how I feel.”
It’s an amazing transition, with Benetti leaving his dream job calling games for his hometown team to take on a new challenge with a division rival. It’s happening with Benetti at the top of his game, calling MLB national broadcasts, as well as NFL, college football and basketball games -- and even the Olympics.
And yet, to hear Benetti talk about Detroit, it makes more sense. No, he isn’t from Detroit, unlike some of his predecessors. But as he talks about Detroit, he gets it -- not just from his White Sox games, but from his Big Ten work as well.
“I know, based on social media comments when I’m doing a national game, how much people care about their team. And I know Michigan fans care, and I know Michigan State fans care. … I know people care about these programs. Like when you do a national game, you hear from people if you slightly say something that they don’t agree with, whatever it is. And that’s the job, and I love it. But you can see the passion, and you can see they care. And this is from a distance.
“I don’t want to make a generalization, but part of my life has been: I am somebody who does not walk like the average human being. I have an eye that drifts. I have cerebral palsy. Like, that is part of me, right? And I quite often get reactions that are not completely representative of who I am as a full person. I am physically different, but mentally I can hold a conversation. And so, I do think I get, I guess you would say underestimated sometimes. And not to say it with a chip on my shoulder, but that’s the way life works.
“And from a distance -- gross generalization alarm here -- but from a distance, I think that’s how Detroit gets treated. I think, quite often, Detroit is not known for its passionate fans or what it has done for the music industry. I think people reduce Detroit to a couple of statistics and I don’t like seeing people and a whole place get reduced to anything. And I know how much people care and I like how much people here want to matter and be seen for what they are. So to me, as I’ve thought about this, that is where we link up.”
So what should you expect from a Benetti broadcast?
Well, clearly there’s an analysis side; he was a key voice behind the rise of ESPN’s Statcast broadcasts of MLB games a few years ago, and he puts a ton of research into his calls before he gets to the park, let alone gets behind the microphone for the game.
But there’s also the fun side.
One of Benetti’s favorite memories on White Sox broadcasts, he said, was when he and partner Steve Stone rode the Comerica Park carousel while filming the opening segment to a White Sox-Tigers game, talking about the matchup while bobbing up and down on the merry-go-round.
“Like, yeah, when it’s 9-8 in the 10th inning, we’re not doing that,” Benetti said. “We’re locked on the game. But it’s 162 games, it’s every day. There are people here who want to be detailed and want to be great and want to do all those things that you have to hear, but they also want to be fun, and they appreciate that and love that. And what they wanted in an announcer is what I fancy myself as. And that, to me, you can’t say no when somebody’s ideals are so locked in with yours.
“Sometimes you show up at a place and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is right. And I can’t believe it’s right, because I’m leaving home.’ Please don’t estimate how much I have to feel this to leave [Chicago].”