Bill Walton and Jason Benetti at the Maui Invitational. (Credit: ESPN)

Jason Benetti has previously described Bill Walton’s tenderness as “like being friends with the woods.”

When Benetti left ESPN, he also left Walton. But he has fond memories of their times together. The new play-by-play voice for the Tigers found himself working with an NBA Hall of Famer with a unique and charming personality, and that’s putting it mildly. Benetti never thought he would be able to work with someone like him.

Appearing on the most recent episode of the Awful Announcing podcast, Benetti told host Brandon Contes, “Dude, it’s the best.”

“It is such an enlivening experience because I have to be ready for literally everything,” added Benetti. “I always thought play-by-play is a test in that moment of everything you know, but we’re not going to hit the range with anybody else than Bill hits. So, I have to be ready for him to ask me, ‘Have you read Steve Martin’s book? What do you think of Myanmar?'”

“Like, that’s the range. That’s the spectrum. And it’s really like doing a crossword puzzle, except nobody tells you how many letters are in the word, and frankly, there are no clues. You just have to go, say words, and see if you can follow along.”

Contes asked Benetti if there was one thing that Walton said on a broadcast that either surprised him or caught him off guard more than the rest. Before Awful Announcing’s Contes could even finish asking the question, Bennett laughed as he thought of his answer.

“I mean, there’s so many,” Benetti said. “The time that he asked if my father had ever played for (the late UNLV head men’s basketball coach) Jerry Tarkanian, I said, ‘No, my dad was an air traffic controller.’ And then he was like, ‘But did he play for Jerry Tarkanian?'”

“I mean, you keep going…When he did the White Sox game with me, and the first question he asked (former catcher) James McCann in our postgame interview — he had a bunch of eyeblack on — and Bill said, ‘What is that under your eyes?” That was the first question. It was like doing a game with the mind of an eight-year-old, in the best way.

“You know how kids will just like say the thing that they see, to their discredit sometimes? That’s what he does. And then he asked halfway through the interview, James was about to leave, and I said, ‘OK James, great job,’ and he said something like, ‘Bill, do you have any other questions?'”

Boy, did he ever. Benetti made it clear to McCann that whatever transpired in the remaining follow-up questions from Walton was on him.

“But James loved it,” Benetti said. “He really enjoyed the whole experience. And then Bill asked him, ‘What do you eat before a game?” This is a postgame interview; it’s supposed to be like three questions. It just kept going and going and going.”

“But I truly think the most ridiculous thing that we have done together actually involves a Tiger,” admits Benetti. “Early 2020, before the pandemic hit, Bill and I had an Arizona State basketball game, and his producer for a lot of the games, Tim Sullivan, who is just awesome. Sulli had the idea that we would go to Arizona State baseball and (Detroit Tigers first baseman) Spencer Torkelson, who was playing for the Sun Devils at the time — and he was going to be the first overall pick — and Sulli had this idea that Tork would teach Bill Walton how to hit.”

“So, we did a whole bit where Bill is in catcher’s gear, and he’s starting to play catcher, and Bill, wearing the catcher’s gear, goes into the batting cage….and Tork is trying to teach him how to hit. And it was an absolute gushing nightmare geyser of fun. And Tork still remembers it.”

Benetti stated that in June of this year, he entered the Tigers’ clubhouse, where Torkelson approached him and inquired about Bill. Benetti couldn’t believe that Torkelson remembered that, but how could you not?

“The spectrum that you cover with Bill Walton, if you like creativity, I suggest it,” Benetti said.

Benetti was asked if he had total trust in Walton’s filter and if whatever he would say or wherever he was taking a story would fit a national audience.

“Who cares is my answer,” he quipped. “That’s the fun part. Fit for a national audience is such a movable standard. And fit for his moral compass is what I knew it would be.”

“And I also know that I have my own personal parachute there as well. I don’t have to play along per se if he says something I don’t agree with. I want to be a good partner, but that’s the fun. The fun of it is you don’t know, and you’re not certain exactly where it’s gonna end up, and you react. I mean, my body has never let me be a quarterback… it’s fun to do, and that’s my only way of doing it in life.”

Benetti and Walton created a unique partnership, bringing joy to their audience through unpredictable broadcasts built on trust and humor.

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About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.