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Jason Benetti, a 2001 graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, announced a lot of baseball games as a student broadcaster for WHFH-FM radio. It turns out it was good practice for his new role as TV announcer for the Chicago White Sox.

Jason Benetti

“It’s awesome, really awesome,” Benetti said Wednesday when the White Sox announced his new position as long-time broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson’s replacement in the booth at U.S. Cellular Field. Harrelson will announce mostly away games.

Benetti will be introduced at Sox Fest, Jan. 29 through 31, at Hilton Chicago. He starts as announcer for televised spring training games, although his official first on-air assignment hasn’t been decided.

The TV announcer selection process took months. Benetti, 32, has worked for ESPN since 2011 announcing college football and basketball. He didn’t want to get his hopes up about the White Sox job because he’s learned things don’t always work out.

But when he was asked to fly in and meet White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, “I thought it might happen.” Then he met with his new TV booth partner Steve Stone a few weeks later.

He remembered the times as a kid his parents, Bob and Sue Benetti, would take him to U.S. Cellular Field to catch a game. He loved watching his favorite player, Robin Ventura, who today is the Sox manager. The thoughts flooded back for him, and his excitement level went up.

“What do you say when your hometown team wants you? Of course I was going to say ‘Yes,’” he said. When the deal was finally set, Benetti said he called his parents, and his mom started crying. He had to swear them to secrecy until the White Sox were ready for his announcement.

Benetti, a former Homewood resident, joked about “the long arduous process” of moving around the block from Ridge Road to Hickory Road when he was growing up. He played wiffle ball with his dad, but wearing leg braces due to his cerebral palsy kept him from playing sports.

But he has fond memories of watching his cousin playing in Homewood Little League games at Izaak Walton, and the smell of the $1 hamburgers that he admits he enjoyed.

At H-F, Benetti spent hours in the broadcast booth as co-host of the “Sports Mania” program, and he was the WHFH-FM announcer for the football, basketball and baseball games.

Benetti describes retired teacher Bob Comstock, who directed the broadcasting program, as “a fantastic human being.”

“When the equipment didn’t work, he was calm, and when we needed a joke, he had a joke for us. He was zany when he needed to be zany and he’d put his foot down when he needed to put his foot down,” Benetti explained. “He was truly a person you could be there after school with and he’d give you guidance without saying he was guiding you.”

After H-F, Benetti went to Syracuse University and called women’s sports games. During 2005, he called some games as a senior for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A team of the Washington Nationals. In 2006, he was the second announcer in the Syracuse booth and returned in 2009 as the lead announcer until August 2014. He has worked for ESPN, Fox Sports and other outlets.

He says he knows people see him as someone who can’t walk straight, but he hasn’t let that bother him. He talks about his cerebral palsy “if I can provide somebody a glimmer of hope.” He didn’t have anyone with his disability as a role model when he was younger, but he knows today he and others are open about their disabilities and that can make a difference.

Longtime White Sox fans may be looking for another Harrelson-type announcer, but when Harrelson and Benetti met, Harrelson was very encouraging told him to be himself.

“I grew up watching Hawk,” he said, but he makes it his business to study other announcers to learn how to be better at his craft. He will refine his style over time, “but at some point, you have to say this is who I am.”

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