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Jason Benetti bracing for Bill Walton’s arrival in White Sox broadcast booth

No, Walton will not be breaking down swings or pitch sequences. He won’t be into strategy or lineup changes.

Bill Walton
Former basketball player and sportscaster Bill Walton gestures after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in San Diego.    
Orlando Ramirez/AP

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Volcanoes. The Grateful Dead. Wild mushrooms. Cycling.

No subject will be off limits when Bill Walton joins the White Sox’ broadcast booth Friday and that is the way play-by-play man Jason Benetti wants it. Benetti is well aware that not everybody will be on board with the concept of Walton, who is known to venture all over the map when he is on the microphone for Pac-12 Conference basketball games for ESPN and the Pac-12 Network.

But listen closely, Benetti implores. There is somewhat of a method to Walton’s madness, it just requires the listener to have their own open mind.

“I just think you have to have curiosity,” Benetti said. “As a listener, as a partner, as a producer. If you are curious about the world and curious about where the mind can take you . . . I mean seriously, the mind is a wonderful device that we all use as a guide for the daily tunnel but we can also use it to break out of the tunnel. And every time I’m around him, I break out of whatever tunnel I’m in. He’s just so good at bringing you to the beauty of the world.”

Benetti starts to reference the travel writer Bill Bryson. He jumps to “Into the Wild” author Jon Krakauer. Now he is talking about an appreciation for the lack of boundaries in the world. Benetti is having his own Walton moment and his free-spirited partner won’t even be joining him for another day.

“Sometimes you find yourself drifting on your own and then it’s like ‘How did I become unmoored here?’ It’s the question you ask yourself,” Benetti said.

No, Walton will not be breaking down swings or pitch sequences. He won’t be into strategy or lineup changes. Heck, he barely does that on college basketball broadcasts. He has two gears: 80 percent joy and 20 percent dismissal. “Pleeease,” is a common refrain of disapproval.

He will reference at least the last three books he has read, he is likely to mention attending the final show of the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” farewell tour at Soldier Field. And many stories have him riding a bicycle, whether it belongs in the story or not.

Walton is the entire circus. But Benetti is the ringleader.

“There are a number of personalities that I will occupy during the course of a three-hour affair, I think,” Benetti said. “But generally, I kind of like going with it. I like seeing where it takes us.”

Walton and Benetti worked together just once for three days and six games at college basketball’s Maui Invitational in 2018.

He was one of the best college basketball players ever when he roamed the court at UCLA in the early 1970s, but when he talks, somehow every player who ever put on a UCLA uniform was better than him. His NBA career spanned 13 years, but he did not play in three of them because of foot injuries that dogged his time in the pros. He still was a two-time All-Star with the Trail Blazers. He was the 1978 NBA MVP and won a pair of NBA titles: 1977 at Portland and 1986 at Boston.

Now he is a walking encyclopedia mostly about the world and all its beauty. Sunrises, sunsets, meadows, rock formations. He has been known to talk about the world’s largest living organism, a mushroom in central Oregon that has been referred to as “Humongous Fungus.” Walton did not come up with the nickname.

Asked if he will sometimes have to cut the party short and rein in his partner, Benetti can’t imagine it will come to that.

“If you lined up a thousand musicians that are trying to make it, I bet you find one or two that find an awesome hook to a song in what Bill says,” Benetti said. “It’s like Paul Simon’s ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ He got the name of the song from a dish on a menu. But that is kind of how I feel about Bill. You just look around and see something that connects and it becomes a harmony.”

On Friday night, Benetti will be able to leave all the music references to Walton.