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
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
Thunder, has known since boyhood that he wanted to be a baseball
Freed, 30, is in his fifth year with the team, and carries a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
as they prepare for today’s game. Both men make no secret of their
frank mutual ambition — to become broadcasters in the major
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
no game notes. So it was a great lesson in creating something out
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
609-394-8326. Pavilion seats $8; terrace, $5; $3 children & seniors.
Radio coverage is on 1680-AM.
Saturday, August 12, 7:05 p.m., Sunday, August 13, 1:05
and Monday, AUgust 14, at 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.
Wednesday, August 30, 7:05 p.m., Thursday, August 31, 7:05
September 1, 7:05 p.m., Saturday, September 2, 7:05 p.m.,
Sunday, September 3, 1:05 p.m., and Monday, September 4,
— David McDonough
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