ANAHEIM, Calif. – Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton brought his unique commentary and musings to the baseball booth Friday night. After nine innings, it was evident Chicago White Sox broadcasts might never be the same again.
Walton was the guest analyst because Steve Stone is taking this weekend’s series against the Los Angeles Angels off. The former UCLA and NBA star center called the ballgame for NBC Sports Chicago with Jason Benetti. The two also work together on college basketball games for ESPN.
The White Sox were intrigued about bringing Walton in for a game after hearing him and Benetti calling the Maui Invitational last November. Benetti, in his fourth season calling White Sox games, then extended the invitation to Walton during the NBA playoffs.
The fact that it was 70s Weekend and Tie Dye T-Shirt night at Angel Stadium made it even all the more surreal.
“That is the way my life works. I talked to my son Chris who lives in the area and it’s his son’s birthday, so we picked out this date,” Walton said. “It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, it’s tie-dye night here and there’s a Big A out front, so it all rolls into one.”
The 6-foot-11 Walton said he grew up a baseball fan in California and followed the San Diego Padres when they were a minor league team and the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. His two favorite players as a kid were Chico Ruiz and Tony Perez.
“He’s a huge fan of baseball. He’s a huge fan of earth. He’s such a curious human being that he’s a fan of anything he can pull out joy from,” Benetti said.
The 3-hour game – which the White Sox won 7-2 – also suited Walton’s style because the pace of the game is slower.
“Baseball is for telling stories and thank goodness he’s here,” Benetti said. “There are really no requirements of keeping up with a game. It’s there. You’re in and out of high-leverage plays.”
Walton did get off on the right foot when he said during the first inning: “Mike Trout. He’s good.”
In the fifth, he also had a unique way of describing Trout’s 41st home run of the season.
“That’s Trout? Swimming upstream, avoiding all the flies, and sending one ricocheting through the universe.”
There were also Walton’s usual philosophical musings such as “We’re all security guards in the game of life” and “If you are ever feeling down about life, just put on John Fogerty.”
Walton’s best line of the night, though?
“I would not be a good catcher. I’m much better at getting high than getting low.”
Walton spoke to the White Sox before the game and received a bat from catcher James McCann. While showing off the lumber in the booth during the eighth inning, Walton predicted McCann would hit a grand slam.
A couple of pitches later, he did.
“That boy James! I have his bat, and he sent the ball to outer space,” Walton exclaimed.
McCann said Walton signed a ball for him before the game and it was a neat experience getting to meet him.
“He asked for a bat to have up in the booth. So I just gave him mine and it went from there. It was a special thing,” McCann said.
As Benetti was signing off, Walton said: “I apologize on behalf of the human race for destroying your broadcast, and I hope I don’t ruin your career, which I think I already let that bus go by.”
But judging by the reception the game got across social media – it was trending on Twitter most of the night – many people were enjoying it.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria was hoping the Walton experience could carry over to the next road trip against Minnesota.
“You know what? If he would like to come and the organization is on board, we will take him,” Renteria said. “He was awesome. I never met him before, but that was pretty neat. To point on everything. He was awesome.”
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