Andy Freed is now in his sixth season as the radio-play-by-play voice of the Tampa Bay Rays, but like most big-league broadcasters, he started out calling games in the minor leagues. Freed spent 11 years on the farm, having begun his broadcasting career with the St. Lucie Mets, in 1994.

David Laurila: You started out your broadcasting career in A ball. What was that experience like?

Andy Freed: For me, it was OK for a lot of reasons. For one, I was incredibly excited. I had just finished college and was doing everything I wanted to do in life at that point. It was the perfect job for a kid right out college. First of all, I got a chance to do the big league team, the New York Mets, during spring training over the local stations. That was a great way to start off, but the real thing began in April and it was just the beginning of the grass-roots learning of baseball. I always talked to the manager and coaches, and still do to this day, because my goal was to learn, and if you can teach me something about baseball, that’s great. I approached it almost like a post-graduate degree in broadcasting baseball.

That’s when it started, the first of 11 years, and doing 140 games by yourself, on a station — WPSL in Port St. Lucie, Florida — that was 64 watts at nigh, my thought was: Who cares if anyone is listening? I’m trying to get better at this and if someone is listening, great, but I want to learn baseball and I want to learn how to broadcast it the right way.

DL: Were people listening?

AF: I’ll never know. Actually, I do know that people were listening, because they would come up to me all the time at the ballpark. In the Florida State League, especially at that time, it wasn’t as though they were getting huge crowds, but there were definitely people who would come up and say, “I heard you say this,” or “I heard you say that.” Because of that, I learned a lot about not trying to please one particular person. I remember one fan coming up to me and saying, “You give too many stats.” Then another fan came up to me, the same day, and said, “You don’t give enough statistics.” So I learned that I can’t try to please one person; I have to just do what I feel is right and make peace with that.

DL: Who pays minor-league broadcasters?

AF: Nobody well. At the time, I worked for the radio station, so I was paid by the station. That changed when I got to Double-A, when I started working for the team.

DL: How do broadcasters travel?

AF: We would go city-to-city on buses, and for me, in the single-A Florida State League, it wasn’t too difficult because it was all within the same state. I think our longest trip was three-and-a-half hours. It started to get a little more challenging when I got to Double-A and Triple-A and there were more overnight bus rides and we’d be getting in at 4 o’clock in the morning. You’d sleep for a couple of hours and then wake up and go back to the ballpark.

DL: With the buses, you mean that you traveled with the team?

AF: Yes, you’re with the team and you’re carrying your own equipment. And you learn how to engineer a broadcast, also. If you don’t, you’re not going to get on the air much. One of the great luxuries in big-league baseball is not having to engineer; we have guys who are paid to do the engineering for us. It’s a wonderful luxury, because so often in the minor leagues I was basically hoping that we were on the air. Splitting your attention between engineering and trying to do a good broadcast is difficult.

You have so many other duties besides just broadcasting a game. You might be pulling tarp, you might be selling tickets, you might be doing a public appearance. You might even be the mascot for a little while. But what I don’t regret at all, from my 11 years in the minor leagues — and this was very valuable — is that I got a chance to see how a baseball team is run. I have an understanding, because I’ve done it. I know how to sell tickets, how to make cold calls and sell advertising, how to pull tarp. I know how to do all of those things. Now I only have to do one job, and I look back and say, “Gosh.” You get so much out of your employees, but it is a young person’s job. I think that you can stay too long in the minor leagues, especially if you’re a broadcaster.

DL: Do extra-curricular duties lessen as you move up, or were you still pulling tarp in Triple-A?

AF: Oh yeah, without a doubt I pulled tarp in Pawtucket. Definitely. Not once the game started, because we were up in the booth, but beforehand we did. I can remember [team president] Mike Tamburro saying, “All hands on deck, we need you on the field!” I can remember shoveling snow and ice off the field, right before opening day in Pawtucket one time. It might have been in ‘02 or ‘03. So it doesn‘t lessen as you go up. The minor leagues, really, to me, were one entity. The game in Triple-A was very similar to the game in single A.