Whiz Kids sidebar Feb2017

  The four ceremonial “first pitch” honorees, from left,
  are Jason Benetti, Mary Ann Savage, Cece Coffey and
  Mike Nickolaou.
(Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Homewood Baseball and Softball (HBS) opened the 2017 season on Saturday, April 22, in the usual fashion, with a big, candy-filled parade and a ceremony to mark the event and honor several local heroes.

  Chicago White Sox 
  announcer and former 
  Homewood resident 
  Jason Benetti introduces 
  the pitchers for the 
  ceremonial pitch duties 
  at the Homewood 
  Baseball opening day 
  ceremonies April 22.


HBS President Steve Anderson has served as emcee for a number of opening day ceremonies over the years, but this year, after tending to the traditional thank-yous and raffle drawings, he turned the job over to someone from Homewood who uses a mic to make a living: Jason Benetti, the television play-by-play announcer for the Chicago White Sox.

“I’m going to hand it over to a pro and get out of the way,” Anderson said after reminding the hundreds of ballplayers and their families at the event that Benetti was a hometown-boy-made-good who graduated from James Hart School and Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

Benetti took over White Sox home-game announcing duties in January 2016, replacing one of his heroes, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.

  Ballplayers vie to be 
  chosen to help with the 
  raffle drawing.


On Saturday Benetti presented one of his personal heroes as the first of three community members chosen to throw out ceremonial first pitches.

“I have somebody I want to welcome for our very first first pitch. I’ve known her for an extremely long time. She started at Churchill as a first grade teacher in 1988. She was 12 at the time,” he joked. “She took over as principal in 2001. She’s retiring at the end of this year. I’d love to welcome my first grade teacher, Cece Coffey.”

Coffey got a big hug from her former student as she came to the mound to toss a pitch to catcher Nick Calamino.

The next honorary pitcher was another retiring school principal, Mary Ann Savage, who took the reins at Willow School 10 years ago. She started her career as a kindergarten teacher. 

Her catcher was David Anderson.

Benetti then introduced another retiree, Mike Nickolaou, who is hanging up his HBS spikes. 

  The opening day parade, as 
  always, is bonanza for 
  candy loving kids.


“Some know him as Eileen’s husband. But we know him as a 39-year Homewood resident who spent 31 years on the local police force and has dedicated 26 years to serving all you kids in Homewood baseball and softball,” Benetti said.

Tony Nickolaou served as catcher.

Then Anderson took the mic back to introduce the final honorary pitcher, Benetti.

Kiera Flanigan caught Benetti’s pitch.

Anderson announced that more than 900 ballplayers would compete on 75 teams in the HBS system this season.

“That’s a fantastic result for us,” he said, noting that baseball these days faces stiff competition from other activities. “It takes so much work to make all of this happen.”
Anderson thanked and introduced the many board members, leaders and volunteers who contributed to preparations for the new season.

To conclude the ceremony, Anderson read an email from an acquaintance that he said sums up well the HBS experience.

He reminded the players that it takes hard work and dedication to run the baseball league. He hopes the ballplayers of today will follow the example set by their parents and volunteers and “pass on (their) commitment to community. Maybe they’ll lead the next generation (in) giving back.” 

“It’s not about the trophy, the T-shirt or the parade ― which was great ― but rather about creating memories and friendships that can be cherished for a lifetime,” he read.

And with that, he shouted, “Play ball!” officially launching the new season. 


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