What age gap? White Sox TV teammates Jason Benetti, Steve Stone are best of pals
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MINNEAPOLIS — It took five minutes. In that time, Jason Benetti heard enough plays on words, clever turns of phrase and quick-witted cultural references from his dinner companion that he knew it in his bones: He wanted in.
In with the White Sox, the team he grew up in Homewood rooting for, as a TV play-by-play man. And in with Steve Stone as a partner in parlance, an ally in articulation — a bosom buddy, if you will, in baseball banter.
“I thought, Geez, not only do I want this job,” Benetti recalled, “but I really, really, really want to work with this guy because we can do something special.”
They dined at Don & Charlie’s, a Scottsdale, Arizona, steak house with Chicago roots, in a meeting set up by Sox executives. When the meal was over, Benetti headed to the airport; he had a college football bowl game to call for ESPN. Stone reached out right away to Sox senior director of broadcasting and business development Bob Grim.
“Sign him immediately,” Stone urged.
Not quite 28 months later, Benetti, 34, and Stone, 70, grabbed a leisurely dinner together on a night when the Sox and Twins were snowed out. They didn’t have to hang out — cozy hotel rooms beckoned — but what else were they supposed to do? They’re more than broadcast partners. They’re kind of joined at the hip. They’re … did we say bosom buddies already?
It’s the wrong 1980s sitcom reference, anyway.
“It’s basically like ‘Perfect Strangers,’ but we live in two separate apartments,” Benetti said. “And I don’t know which one of us is Balki.”
Yes, awhile back Benetti moved into the same River North building where Stone lives. Because they don’t spend enough time crammed into a broadcast booth together, right? A “carophile,” according to Benetti, Stone does the driving to and from Guaranteed Rate Field, most often in his Mercedes.
“He has a purchased Benz,” Benetti said. “I have a leased [Ford] Fusion.”
The stories about Benetti’s cerebral palsy have been written, and the only reason to bring his condition up here is to point out how little it has to do with this particular friendship. Stone doesn’t look at Benetti and see a broadcaster with a disadvantage. He beholds a man with enormous ability — “the hardest-working person I’ve ever seen,” Stone called him — and the wit and wisdom of someone much older.
“There is nothing that he is unprepared for,” Stone said. “Plus, he’s off-the-charts intelligent. I can’t make any aside about anything as it pertains to history or movies or music, or any obscure references, without him knowing what I’m talking about.
“I am fond of everything Jason. We are traveling together. We go to the park together. We eat lunch and/or dinner together at home, and sometimes both. I never see cerebral palsy. What I see is Jason.”
And that has been the mark of, as Benetti put it, “the people who have been my best friends over the course of time.” They don’t have to tell him what they don’t see. Benetti can just tell that it’s true.
Besides, Benetti isn’t exactly warm and cuddly when it comes to being offered help. Nor is Stone. Propose to carry either man’s bag, for example, and you’ll likely find yourself on the business end of a snarl like the one Stone gave Benetti on the first road trip of the season. The older pal’s back was hurting. Benetti reached for the bag. Stone shot him a look and said, “No.” Benetti hoisted it anyway and had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Benetti is a crossword-puzzle fanatic, a lover of game shows and a Broadway enthusiast. Typical 34-year-old, right? He also digs pro wrestling and rewatches old seasons of “Survivor,” but nobody’s perfect.
Stone figures Benetti has the mind of a 60-year-old. Benetti insists Stone looks and comports himself like a man in his 50s. It can’t be quite accurate, because Benetti had to drag Stone to the mall a couple of weeks ago in Toronto and help him navigate the task of buying a new iPad.
“God love him, he’s not going to do it alone,” Benetti said. “There’s a language barrier.”
Benetti would love to see Stone and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson each win the highest recognition for career excellence. Harrelson, who is calling 20 Sox games in his final season, was a 2017 finalist for the Ford C. Frick Award, presented to a broadcaster each year by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Stone believes it’s Benetti whose time is coming.
“Jason will win the Frick award,” he said. “Jerry [Reinsdorf, Sox chairman] won’t see it. I won’t see it. But sometime, oh, God, I don’t know, maybe 35 years down the road, I’ll be looking down — I hope — and smiling because I helped this guy get there.”
Not good enough?
“He’s talking about looking down on me? I don’t ever think he’s going to die,” Benetti said. “He’ll figure out a way to subtract years. He’s a mystical person to me. He’s one of the best who’s ever done it.”
And, best of all, a friend.