“Fast-forward six or seven years, you’ve got Jason Benetti,” White Sox TV analyst Steve Stone said of Mike Monaco, who filled in for Benetti on four Sox broadcasts in August. | NBC Sports Chicago
The Massachusetts native will call White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks games within months of each other. You don’t have to be from here to appreciate that.
Mike Monaco was beginning a rare week without any games to broadcast. He would be in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the next week calling the Little League World Series for ESPN. But the week of Aug. 9 was open.
Around lunch time that day, Monaco received a text message from a phone number he didn’t recognize. But it wasn’t long before he realized that his open week was over – and he was more than happy about it.
The text was from the White Sox. It said TV play-by-play voice Jason Benetti had tested positive for COVID-19, and the team was asking Monaco if he could fill in on some NBC Sports Chicago broadcasts that week – starting that night.
Welcome to Chicago sports media, Mike.
“Obviously, it was unfortunate because it came under the circumstances of Jason getting COVID,” Monaco said. “Thankfully, he’s better now. I certainly would never draw it up that way. But it was very fortunate to be asked.”
Monaco, 28, isn’t just some pretty face off the street. He called minor-league baseball for seven years. He was the voice of Western Michigan basketball for four seasons. He came to Chicago about four years ago to work for the Big Ten Network, and now he’s a full-timer at ESPN. His biggest gig is filling in for Red Sox play-by-play voice Dave O’Brien on NESN, a dream job for the Cohasset, Massachusetts, native.
But Monaco is starting to make a name for himself here. He called four White Sox games that week, filled in for Adam Amin on the Bulls’ preseason game last Friday and is among the fill-ins for Blackhawks voice Pat Foley this season.
“Fast-forward six or seven years, you’ve got Jason Benetti,” Sox TV analyst Steve Stone said. “Mike is going to be outstanding. He does a lot of different sports. He’s very good at each one. He will get better. If you were in the stock market, you’d like to buy Mike Monaco futures.”
Monaco has a great voice and smooth delivery. He comes prepared with a wealth of information but doesn’t force it all into the broadcast. And his self-deprecating nature was evident on the Sox broadcasts.
“I think that television is the analyst’s medium and they are the star,” Monaco said. “No one needs to hear my opinions on White Sox players. People want to hear what Steve has to say. So figure out what he thinks is important and try to set him up the best you can.”
Mike Monaco, with Red Sox analysts Dennis Eckersley and Jerry Remy in 2019, is the backup to play-by-play voice Dave O’Brien on NESN.
Monaco has been set up for success with the help of veteran voices. As a sophomore at Notre Dame, Monaco saw that Amin was on campus to call a men’s basketball game for ESPN. Having called games that were streamed on the athletic department’s website, Monaco reached out to Amin on Twitter to see if they could talk shop for a bit before the game.
“He’s cramming, trying to get ready for a big game, and he took the time to answer all my rudimentary questions about broadcasting,” Monaco said. “Whenever he would come back to campus, I would try to pick his brain. There was a time he came back to broadcast Notre Dame softball for ESPN, and he let me shadow him in this tiny broadcast booth.”
“You could tell right away he was very sharp with the questions that he asked, what he was curious about,” said Amin, who has continued to help by providing feedback on Monaco’s broadcasts. “He was very polished right away. He was like me in the sense that he needed someone to tell him that the things you’re doing are the things that have worked for a lot of us who are lucky enough to move up.”
One of Monaco’s minor-league baseball stops was with the Cubs’ High-A affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, in 2015. Len Kasper, then the Cubs’ TV voice, and the WGN crew occasionally would have an affiliate produce a segment about a prospect to appear on “Leadoff Man.” Monaco’s segment on then-Cubs farmhand Gleyber Torres aired, Kasper shared it on social media and Benetti reached out to Monaco.
“There’s a lot of really good people in the industry who want to help,” Monaco said. “I certainly feel the effects of that all the time and am very grateful for it.”
Just as he’s grateful for the opportunity to call Sox, Bulls and Hawks games within months of each other. You don’t have to be from Chicago to appreciate that.
“I recognize it’s crazy and that I’m crazy fortunate because I have learned pretty quickly how incredible the sports fans are here,” Monaco said. “And how incredible they are toward their teams but also toward their announcers. Which is pretty cool.”