Corrections or additions?

This article by David McDonough was prepared for the August 9,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Voice of the Thunder

In "Voices of the Game," Curt Smith’s

definitive

history of baseball broadcasting, the theme echoes again and again:

The voices that you listened to as a child, sitting cross-legged in

front of the radio, or staring transfixed at the television, are the

voices you’ll hear forever. Their names resonate like a mantra: Red

Barber with the Dodgers and Yankees; Mel Allen in New York; Vin Scully

in Los Angeles; By Saam in Philadelphia. The love of baseball can

be a legacy, and the day may be coming when a father listening to

a big league ballgame will say to his son: "You hear that? That’s

Andy Freed. I used to listen to him in Trenton when I was a kid."

Andy Freed, who spends 142 days a year as the radio voice of the

Trenton

Thunder, has known since boyhood that he wanted to be a baseball

broadcaster.

Freed, 30, is in his fifth year with the team, and carries a

staggering

workload, he is also the Thunder’s director of media and public

relations (www.trentonthunder.com). Then there’s the fact that half of

the games are on the road in places

like Portland, Maine, and Akron, Ohio — towns that require a 7

to 12-hour car trip.

So why is this man smiling? "I love it," says Freed. "It’s

all I ever wanted to do. I knew early on that it was something I was

good at, and it gave me confidence, as if I knew something that no

one else did, that belonged just to me."

A baseball broadcaster’s job is more complicated than you might guess.

On this particular day, Freed gets to his office at Waterfront Park

at 8 a.m. for a 1:05 p.m. ballgame. He will be there until midnight.

He gets to do some preparation for his broadcast — looking at

scores, checking the Internet, returning a dozen phone calls —

before going into a 9:45 meeting with team general manager Rick

Brenner

and others.

The rest of the morning is busy. There is the preparation of game

day notes for the media, a thick sheaf of papers telling who will

be pitching that day, and what those pitchers have done in previous

outings, giving interesting and pertinent facts about the two teams

in today’s game. How many games have they won? How many of those were

at home? How many were come-from-behind victories?

Then there are notes on every player on the home team. Who’s hitting

well, and who isn’t? How is each player doing against right-handed

pitchers, and lefties. Who’s injured? Who’s back from the disabled

list? "It’s a whirlwind of activity," acknowledges Freed.

"We do have a system. By June, you can do it with your eyes

closed.

Eventually, I can let down my hair and exhale. Feels good."

Well, no, actually, he can’t. Because it’s time to record the pre-game

interview with Thunder manager Billy Gardner, and get the day’s

line-up

from him, and from the opposing team’s manager, and get that printed

up, and make copies for the media, the official scorer, the team

announcer,

the scoreboard operators, and anyone else who needs it.

By now, it’s 11:45, and time to get up to the broadcast booth. Freed

takes the stairs outside the business office up to the main concourse

of the park. By now, people are milling about — fans, ushers,

parking attendants, security, and Freed has to stop and answer

greetings

and questions along the way. One of the most polite and good-natured

people in the business, it takes him minutes to work his way towards

the broadcast booth, located above the last row of seats in the

section

of the park directly behind home plate.

In the booth, Freed is greeted by his broadcast partner, Tom McCarthy,

32, a former sports reporter for the Times of Trenton who has been

with the Thunder since the team’s inception in 1994. Now the host

of the his own eponymous sports radio talk show weekdays from 4 to

7 p.m. on ESPN (1680 AM) in Princeton, which broadcasts the Thunder

games, McCarthy continues to work most home games with Freed. For

the 15 home games broadcast on television through CN8 Comcast Network,

the two men trade off TV and radio on-air responsibilities.

Freed and McCarthy are old friends by now, and there’s an easy

familiarity

as they prepare for today’s game. Both men make no secret of their

frank mutual ambition — to become broadcasters in the major

leagues.

As Freed says, "we root for each other. If he gets to the big

leagues first, I’ll be delighted for him, and I know he feels the

same way."

It must be love that keeps Freed and McCarthy at the ballpark because

no one ever got rich broadcasting minor league baseball. The salary

for a play-by-play man on this level ranges from the high teens to

around $30,000 a year. In the winter, Freed broadcasts Rider

basketball,

and McCarthy does the same at Princeton. They enjoy their winter jobs,

but speaking practically, they represent important extra income.

Comedian Martin Short has told his story of a childhood

spent conducting an imaginary TV variety show in his basement, and

Freed can readily relate to it. While growing up in Ellicot City,

Maryland, 15 minutes outside Baltimore, he confesses, "I think

I was a weird kid. I used to set up a baseball dice game in the family

room — that was my stadium. And I would call the games, a very

similar set-up to what I do now. I even had a mock crowd mike. I don’t

think my parents were thrilled." Indeed, his father, an aircraft

mechanic for Eastern Airlines and later U.S. Air, and his mother,

a homemaker and dance exercise instructor, were always a bit

bewildered

as to root cause of their son’s baseball madness.

Freed went to Towson State in Maryland, where he received a bachelor’s

degree in sports communication in 1993 — but not before

transforming

the Towson radio station into something he could be proud of. "I

marched right in during my freshman year ready to raise the bar in

sports coverage. Second semester I became sports director. We were

not going to be just a typical college radio station where kids come

in and play records from their collection. We wanted to maintain a

professionalism. We showed up in shirts and ties, we were organized,

and did our interviews professionally. We had a 10,000-watt station

that could be heard across four states. I did news, sports, covered

games. It was great training."

During his four college years Freed also interned with the Baltimore

Orioles, working with his childhood hero and mentor, Jon Miller.

Something

of a legend in sports broadcasting of the last quarter century, Miller

was a godsend to a kid trying to break in.

"The time he’d spend with me, working on my audition tape, I can

never thank him enough," Freed says. "He’d spend two hours

after his own work with me going over my tape. All the lights would

be out in the stadium except the one in the broadcast booth. His

partner,

Joe Angel, helped me too. And later Gary Cohen, the Mets announcer,

helped me. I pin my hopes on such things."

The admiration, clearly is mutual. "I thought he had the most

ability of any of the people that interned with us," says Miller,

now the radio broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants. "Andy,

you could see, had the ability of painting the picture of the action

while it was going on. Not everyone can.

"The main thing is that Andy’s enthusiasm is never-ending. In

this business, there’s always the goal of reaching the big leagues,

but it’s important to make sure that’s not the only point. Andy has

the big leagues as the goal, but he doesn’t make that the point of

the broadcast," says Miller.

"I send out audition tapes every year, always have," says

Freed. "I send them out cold and to contacts I make. I’ve gone

out of my way to meet people, just to shake their hand and follow

up with a tape. Sometimes you have to be a pest. I send a tape to

all 30 big league teams, with follow-up letters. There are 30 doors,

and I knock on them about four times a year. When that door opens,

I want to be standing there."

While still in college, Freed sent out tapes to major and minor league

teams — about 90 in all. He got plenty of non-reaction, but enough

feedback to be encouraged, and before long, his persistence paid off.

In 1994, he was hired to broadcast single-A baseball, a lower level

of minor league ball, in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "The thing about

the Florida State League is that a game down there is harder than

any game in the major leagues, because you’re doing it in front of

maybe 100 people. You’re by yourself, there’s not a lot of

information,

no game notes. So it was a great lesson in creating something out

of nothing."

In 1996, the Thunder, the Boston Red Sox affiliate in the Double-A

Eastern League, were looking for a new broadcaster, and, like everyone

else in baseball, they had a tape from Andy Freed. "Andy’s was

the only tape that stood out," says McCarthy.

At 12:48 p.m. by the scoreboard clock, Freed begins

the broadcast. He and McCarthy discuss last night’s game, and the

strengths and weakness of today’s two teams. They have been especially

impressed with the Thunder’s pitching and defense. At about 12:55

p.m., Freed cues up the manager’s report he taped that morning with

Billy Gardner. While that tape runs, he explains his approach to

broadcasting.

"I don’t think you need a great voice," he states, "but

you have to have a listen-able voice. It’s harder to do radio than

TV; you have to paint a picture. The number one sin on the air is

trying to be that favorite announcer you heard growing up. Some of

that is inevitable — I still hear Jon Miller in my own voice —

but you don’t want to be a rip-off. You have to be genuine, or the

audience will spot it."

"Pacing is of great importance. You’ve got a lot of time, no need

to hurry, but your adrenaline, your energy is up. People tease me

because the whole time I’m on the air my leg is jiggling, but it’s

energy. I’ve learned it’s better to come out with the right words

than to talk too much. And first of all, people want to know, was

he safe or out? Everyone says that baseball is a slow sport, but

when you’ve got two runners on, two outfielders chasing the ball,

the wind blowing in, all hell is breaking loose, it’s the fastest

thing going."

This game turns out to be a comparatively staid affair, ending in

2 hours and 27 minutes, just about average in this league. The Thunder

win it, 5-2. No time to relax, though. Freed will now cue up the game

highlights, and come back on the air in a few minutes to wrap up the

game. Then he will prepare game reports to run on the morning news

the next day. Then there’s the box scores to be printed out and sent

to Howe Sports Data, and other teams. There’s always just one more

thing.

Almost everyone in minor league baseball — players, managers,

umpires, reporters, and office staff — wants to move on some day.

There are broadcasters who would love to anchor ESPN, or do

"Sunday

Night Baseball" on Fox. Andy Freed’s dream is to work for one

team — one big league team, any team. But if the dream was perfect

— "I’d love to work in Baltimore. Raise my kids there, be

near my family. I miss them. My wife, Amy, fills a tremendous void.

And she likes baseball — to a point. But I try to ease up in the

off-season. We honeymooned at Disney World and I didn’t insist we

go to spring training games — although part of me wanted to."

When Andy Freed does move on, those who miss him will include a radio

audience that, whether it knows it or not, is enjoying the opportunity

of listening to someone who could one day be at the top of his

profession.

"There’s nothing like baseball to me," says Freed. "It’s

my dream. Some people might think it’s a stupid little dream, but

it’s mine." But no one who spends time with Andy Freed — on

or off the air — thinks that his dream is stupid, or doubts that

it will come true.

— David McDonough

Trenton Thunder, Waterfront Park, One Thunder Road,

Trenton,

609-394-8326. Pavilion seats $8; terrace, $5; $3 children & seniors.

Radio coverage is on 1680-AM.

Home stand against Norwich, Friday, August 11, 7:05 p.m.,

Saturday, August 12, 7:05 p.m., Sunday, August 13, 1:05

p.m. ,

and Monday, AUgust 14, at 7:05 p.m.

Home stand against Binghamton. Monday, August 21, 7:05

p.m.,

Tuesday, August 22, 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, August 23, 7:05

p.m., Thursday, August 24, 7:05 p.m.

Home against Portland. Tuesday, August 29, 7:05 p.m.,

Wednesday, August 30, 7:05 p.m., Thursday, August 31, 7:05

p.m.

Final home stand of the season, against New Britain. Friday,

September 1, 7:05 p.m., Saturday, September 2, 7:05 p.m.,

Sunday, September 3, 1:05 p.m., and Monday, September 4,

6:35 p.m.

— David McDonough


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