On Tuesday morning CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley and NBC Washington’s Adam Vingan reported something right up our alley. Michael Fleetwood, a hardcore Washington Capitals fan, arrived to Development Camp wearing a red Caps home jersey customized with Joe Beninati‘s name on the back.
— Chuck Gormley (@ChuckGormleyCSN) July 8, 2014
Fleetwood had the number 1 stitched below Beninati’s name, just to make sure it was crystal clear who the best play-by-play man in the business is. Emmys are great, but customized jerseys are forever. And cozy.
I had to ask Joe B himself about it.
I reached out to Beninati in the morning. Many hours and one derecho later, Beninati called back. He’s in Denver right now.
“I’m out here covering the FIL World Lacrosse Championships,” a noticeably wearied Beninati said. “It’s for ESPN. The first game is Thursday night on ESPN2. United States plays Canada.”
After meeting with players and coaches in the morning, Beninati had been working on memorization and pronunciation for each player in the tournament. He was also researching stats and background info. To be good at this job he explained, you have to prepare and put in the hours.
“I’ve been working on this for a couple of weeks already,” he said. “It’s been a long couple of days, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
I asked him if he had seen the photos.
“Adam Vingan actually sent me the photo earlier this morning and my first reaction was ‘Hey, sign that kid up!’” Beninati said, laughing. “These kinds of acts are really touching. That’s the kind of impact you hope to make with the fans. For this gentleman to do that, I’m very flattered.”
“I’ve been in the Caps marketplace for the last 20 years,” he continued. “The fans have been so terrific to me. For a fan to go that far and put my name on the back of a $200 jersey, it’s wonderful. Those are the kinds of things that make my day and from the bottom of my heart, to get that kind of recognition and respect, it touches me.”
The best part about Fleetwood’s number choice: it’s actually a number Beninati’s worn before.
“When I played lacrosse, I wore number one,” the former goalie said. “I wore number 29 when I played hockey. I couldn’t speak for this gentleman as to why he put that number on the back, but it sure looks like a goalie number!”
Joe B said that this was the first Caps jersey he’s ever seen with his name stitched on the back. He also joked and said, “I’m glad it doesn’t say ‘Beninati Sucks.’”
I asked Beninati if he had a message for Michael; he said yes. “I’ve got to find a way to put Fleetwood on the back of my jersey now,” he said. (I’m not sure if Joe meant that literally or not, but a Joe B suit with a custom nameplate would be a curious sight for the home opener.)
While I had Joe on the line, I asked him about the Caps’ recent signings: Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.
“I think a lot of us acknowledge that there was room to improve on defense,” he said. “For ownership and management to make the financial commitment that they did to Brooks and to Matt shows that they’re serious about addressing the issues.”
“I’ve always liked Brooks from the time I saw him play in college to the time he became a professional and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh,” he continued. “He is a hammer, a physical defenseman and the leader that I think we needed. They really feel like Brooks is the guy and the player they identified as their number one offseason need. To get him and Matt Niskanen — who I think has a lot of upside to grow and if I understand right chose to come to Washington over Detroit — and plop them in with the defensemen we already have, you can see why people are feeling a lot better about things now.”
Beninati sees the signings as a drastic move necessary to improve the defense now.
“I also think a lot of what they did was for the short term,” Beninati said. “I don’t think they were considering what Brooks is going to be like at age 37 or 38 at the end of the deal. They’re concerned about this year and next year: the short term impact. I know people are going to say [Brooks] has lost a step — haven’t we all — but still he’s a physical specimen, he keeps himself in great shape, he’ll be a leader off the ice.”
I thanked Beninati for his thoughts and his time. “We’ll make sure to do a suit of the night on Thursday,” I said.
“You really don’t have to do that.”