White Sox TV voice Jason Benetti developed an affinity for the Olympics as a kid. He rooted for all the small countries whose delegation amounted to the person carrying the flag at the opening ceremony.
During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Benetti watched curling religiously while attending Syracuse. He and his friends became such fans that they went to the Utica Curling Club to learn more about the game.
And during his time calling High-A baseball, he watched with friends at a Wilmington, Delaware, sports bar as swimmer Jason Lezak rallied the American men’s 4×100-meter relay team to victory in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. It was one of Michael Phelps’ record eight gold medals.
“Honestly, I’ve watched the call from [NBC’s] Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines probably about 100 times,” Benetti said. “I always loved the majesty and the joy and the possibility of the Olympics that somebody that you’ve never heard of does something that changes their lives.”
In the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo, viewers will hear Benetti, who will announce his first Olympics as NBC’s lead voice for baseball. He’ll call the semifinals, bronze-medal and gold-medal games Aug. 4-7 from the network’s studios in Stamford, Connecticut, alongside analyst Eduardo Perez of ESPN.
Kevin Cross, the president and general manager of Sox TV home NBC Sports Chicago, was part of network discussions about Olympics coverage, and he put in a good word for Benetti. Cross called him near the end of spring training to gauge his interest in the job.
“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Benetti recalled. ” ‘I got a COVID vaccine and a call to do the Olympics within 90 minutes of one another. I have no idea what’s gonna happen the rest of the day, but it’s not gonna top this.’ “
From the sound of it, Cross didn’t need to twist anyone’s arm.
“We have been familiar with Jason for some time,” said Rebecca Chatman, vice president and coordinating producer of NBC Olympics production. “His attention to detail, passion for the game and the comfortable way he weaves storytelling into his play-by-play made Jason an ideal baseball voice for us.”
The job required the Sox and ESPN, for whom Benetti calls almost everything, to sign off. Both made the process quick and easy.
“I’m eternally grateful that it happened that way because they didn’t have to do that,” Benetti said.
Sox radio voice Len Kasper will join Steve Stone on NBCSCH, and Connor McKnight will join Darrin Jackson on ESPN 1000.
Benetti always wanted to call the Olympics, but it seemed so out of reach – often literally and figuratively – that he never conceptualized he would do it. Now he can, and he’s already ahead of the game. Team USA has several former Sox.
Todd Frazier, Jon Jay and David Robertson played for the Sox while Benetti was in the booth. Benetti has remained friends with Frazier, and they’ve exchanged texts. Other prominent former major-leaguers on the team are Homer Bailey, Edwin Jackson and Matt Kemp.
Manager Mike Scioscia’s team clinched a spot in the six-team Olympic field Sunday by beating Venezuela in a qualifying event in Florida. The Americans joined Israel, Japan, Korea and Mexico. The final spot will be determined in another qualifier June 22-26 in Mexico. The Olympic tournament begins July 27.
Benetti is excited to work with Perez, his partner on ESPN baseball Statcasts. Perez, a former major-league player and coach and the son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, also has served as an analyst on ESPN’s international MLB coverage. He and Benetti called KBO games for the network last season.
“His international understanding and his ability to connect with so many people and our ability to do shows together, I am so thrilled,” Benetti said. “He is one of my favorite people on the planet. He has contacts across the globe about baseball. He’s the perfect analyst for this.”
Benetti has seemed busier than ever lately. He has called MLB and NBA games for ESPN, and he and Kasper debuted their podcast, “Sox Degrees,” on Monday. Sox general manager Rick Hahn was the guest, and he shared a side of him that fans don’t see.
“We’re not gonna be news-breakers. We’re here for the stories,” Benetti said. “We’re here for asking questions that other people won’t ask and legitimate curiosity.”
Next up are the Olympics, which are sure to give Benetti plenty more stories to tell.
- The Cubs return to Fox on Saturday, when they host the Cardinals. Joe Buck and A.J. Pierzynski will call the game, with Ken Rosenthal reporting. ESPN then will carry the Cubs’ next three games: Sunday night against the Cardinals and Monday and Tuesday nights against the Mets in New York (ESPN won’t show the game Tuesday locally). Marquee Sports Network will air both Mets games.
- NBC will air an unprecedented 13 nights of primetime coverage on the broadcast network of the U.S. Olympic team trials for diving, swimming, gymnastics and track and field beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.