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May 5, 2010

Minor Issues

Broadcasting the Minors, with Andy Freed; part 2

by David Laurila

In part 2 of my conversation with Andy Freed, the radio-play-by-play voice of the Rays talks about the quest to reach the big leaguesnot just his own but that of the players he covered in 11 seasons as a minor-league-broadcaster.

David Laurila: How often do broadcasters hear from the friends and families of players?

Andy Freed: In the minor leagues, probably too much, because there‘s the sense that everything is working against you if you‘re a minor-league player. It’s not true, but I remember a player’s wife coming up to me one time and saying, “How could you say that my husband made three errors in the game?” I said, “Well, he made three errors in the game. I’m not editorializing here.” I told her that there is a difference between fact and opinion, and I didn‘t go out and say that he was terrible. I just said that he made three errors in the game.

You always have the game of gossip. It’s always, “I heard from my next-door-neighbor’s sister that you said this,” and I’ll either say that I did or that I didn’t. But there is such a want to get to the next level, especially when you get to Triple-A. That was the hardest level of the three, by far, because you’ve got the mix of younger players that are trying to make it versus the older players who are probably on their way down and are seeing the end of the line. And it’s tough. It’s the end of a dream for those guys, and frankly, it’s the end of a payday, too. Real life is about to intercede. So, sometimes you’ll run into disgruntled people, but after awhile I realized that I wasn’t broadcasting for them. I was broadcasting for the audience.

DL: From your perspective, what is life like for a struggling, yet hopeful, career minor leaguer?

AF: Triple-A is a heart-breaking level because the dream can come to an end, whether it is guys topping out or guys that are coming back. It’s tough, and you see it when you’re on the ground, so to speak. And you see it not just from the players’ level, but you see it from their family’s level. Perhaps a wife and husband met when the guy was at single A, and perhaps he, or they, sacrificed an education to play minor-league ball. They’ve got a family and they’ve been moving around. And they don’t know from day to day whether he is going to be released or sent to another organization, or if he is going to be sent back down a level. I’d see guys go back and forth from Double-A to Triple-A five or six times.

A guy named Jared Fernandez was in the Red Sox system. He was a knuckleball pitcher, and it was a total mystery as to whether he would ever get a chance in the majors. Lou Merloni is a great example. I’m forever thrilled that Lou got a chance to play in the major leagues and that he has a post-playing-days [broadcasting] career. This is a guy who was a self-made player. But when you see that dream come to an end, it’s sad. It really is. At the same time, it’s real life, and it’s over. There is a realism that hits these guys in the face sometimes. They’ve reached the end of the road and that realization can be cold water to the face.

DL: What about minor-league broadcasters who will never call a game in the big leagues? You made it, but the majority don’t.

AF: I was very fortunate -- very, very fortunate. And not making it wasn’t an option for me because I didn’t have a backup plan in life. It’s what I wanted to do from the time I was eight years old. But there is a moment where you have to make a conscious decisionam I going to continue to embrace this, or am I going to fall into the trap of being bitter? I think there are guys that can get bitter because they don’t have the opportunity. You have to make peace with it, and Jon Miller and Gary Cohen explained it to me this way"Don’t be bitter, keep working hard, know that you can get there because you have the talent to do it, maximize your opportunity, and don’t make the broadcast just about you getting to the next level. Make it about the dignity of the broadcast that day."

That was some of the best advice I ever got. And while I would tape my games and try to put together my best audition tape for the end of the year, it was about the game that day, learning baseball, and getting better as a broadcaster. Fortunately, I got a lucky break. It’s like the actor who goes to Hollywood and works as a waiter while he waits for that lucky break. If you maximize your opportunities, chances are that at some point you’re going to get that opportunity. I did, but only after paying my dues in the minor leagues.

Related Content:  Broadcasting

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