A typical spring for Jason Benetti would have him perched above a baseball field, broadcasting games for the Chicago White Sox. Not this year.
Like others, he’s on the sidelines as the game has been called on account of the coronavirus. But Benetti has kept busy.
He has made himself accessible to fans through Twitter, where he is taking requests. He relays messages sent in by those who see him as a conduit between the game they love and the situation they find themselves in now.
“So that's been that's been really enriching and made me feel like I can help people. Do virtual hugs, essentially, which is nice,” Benetti said.
Some of those messages are fun, trash talking commentary. For example, one brother who is a Sox fan needling the other, a Cubs fan. Or maybe congratulations on a birthday or anniversary.
Others are more heartbreaking. Like a tribute to a mom who died from COVID-19. Due to health concerns, the family was unable to be with her at the end.
“Mom, I'm going to tell you something you already knew, but I want more people to know. You were a kind, loving and gentle soul and most importantly, you're loved,” the message read.
This tribute is worth your time tonight.
To: His mom Betty, who passed away Sunday because of COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/txiDMQlLE2
— Jason Benetti (@jasonbenetti) April 10, 2020 “It's a reminder that everybody has something that they're dealing with,” Benetti said later. “It's also a reminder of just how much time people spend with baseball."
"We are a major part of people's lives that is missing now and sometimes, even sports announcers can think sports are silly for a brief, fleeting moment when it's 9-1 in the 8th inning and the game's over. And it's something that anyone right now who's a baseball fan would give a lot of money for just to see a 9-1 game in the the eighth. So it's a reminder of how important baseball truly is to our culture. And it's not something that's silly,” he said.
Cerebral Palsy: "It's part of who I am."
For the 36-year-old Benetti, a graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, it’s been a long journey. He was born prematurely, was kept in the hospital for several months and, as a toddler, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It can affect muscle coordination, and watching Benetti you can see his eyes wander and he walks with what he calls a “halting gait.”
Benetti uses his notoriety and his sense of humor to raise awareness through a series of “Awkward Moments” videos produced with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. In one, he talks about being at a movie theater, where a child asks his mother “What’s wrong with that man?”
While some parents are likely to scold a child for such inquisitiveness, Benetti has a different response. “If they do ask, they can find out that CP is damage to the brain, and not damage to the spirit or the soul,” he comments in the video. “I have CP. It’s part of who I am. I like who I am.”
Benetti began doing broadcasts through his local high school and that continued when he enrolled at Syracuse University. A White Sox fan as a youngster, he went on replace the Hall of Fame broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.
"I have this vivid memory of when I was eight or so walking around in gym class at Churchill elementary school doing a Hawk Harrelson impersonation. The idea that I would be replacing such a legend, and now a Hall of Famer, is a truly remarkable thing. And I am so grateful."
Benetti has gone on to become a highly respected announcer of numerous sports. When it’s not baseball season, you can hear him calling football, basketball and more.
Having Fun Without Baseball
Along with Twitter messages, Benetti is teaming up with colleagues to offer Sportscaster Scenes, takeoffs on movies. So far, six have been released. Among them, one with Chicago Cubs announcer Len Kasper, who plays the over-the-top Ned Reyerson to Benetti’s Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day.
“It has just been great fun to have fun with other announcers because that's what I miss,” Benetti said.
While he is having fun, even without baseball, he also understands the gravity of the current situation.
“The thing that has helped me get through the times when it's tough for me mentally has been the reminder that hey, for nine years when I was a kid, I lost summers. In and out of hospitals and having surgeries done is not the greatest way to build your social circle,” Benetti said.
“The next 27 years were sort of dedicated to forgetting it. And at a time of crisis, it has sort of come back to me how important it can be to me to remember. Yes, this is awful for so many. And it's gonna get worse before it gets better, as the experts say. But this too shall pass is something that I remind myself of every day.”