Andy Freed remembers not only the day but also the exact time when he learned he was heading to the Major Leagues.
"It was February first of 2005 at 3:58 p.m.," says Freed, who grew up in the Valley Meade section of Ellicott City.
Freed, who turned 41 on May 11, played baseball in the Howard County Youth Program (HCYP) and at Mt. Hebron High before he graduated in 1989. But his promotion to The Show — as baseball's big leagues are known — had nothing to do with throwing a fastball or hitting a curve.
For more than a decade Freed had been a radio announcer in the minor leagues, working his way up from the Class A Florida State League to the Class AA Eastern League to the Class AAA International League. Just before spring training seven years ago he learned he had landed a job with Tampa Bay, an American League East foe of the Orioles.
At the time, he had spent four years as a broadcaster covering Pawtucket, the top minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
"For 11 years I was in the minor leagues and I wanted to get an opportunity" for the majors, says Freed. "Someone told me the point of the broadcast should not be to get me to the next level. The point was to invest energy into the team I was working for. I really tried to do that."
Even so, there was a sense of relief when he got the Tampa Bay job, mainly since he and his wife had their first child, Sarah, in 2003.
"I won't lie. In Triple A, the schedule was relentless and there were few off days, even in the off-season. You make no money in the minor leagues," he says.
Tears of joy
Freed said he cried tears of joy on the drive home from the ballpark in Pawtucket after he learned he had gotten the Tampa Bay gig.
"It sounds so sappy and dramatic, but I was going to be able to tell (my family) we were going to have a better life," says Freed.
Freed says his family went out to dinner to celebrate that 2005 evening and then came back to their home near the ballpark in Pawtucket and began to call family and friends with news of his promotion to The Show.
"It was one of the happiest things in our life," says his father, Erwin, who lived with his wife, Carolyn, in Ellicott City for more than 30 years before moving to Florida last year to be near their three grandchildren. "He came up through the ranks. We were waiting for him to be called. It was extremely exciting."
Freed's wife, Amy, who he met while working in New Jersey, has a background in nursing and held down several jobs while her husband was a broadcaster in Trenton and Pawtucket. Now she is a stay-at-home mother for their three young children.
"I would not trade those 11 years in the minors. But the minor leagues are there to leave them. If they wanted you to be there, they would pay you better," says Freed.
Since joining the Rays, Freed — who returned home the weekend of May 11-13 when the Rays played at Baltimore — called the 2008 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. In addition, at the end of last season he was behind the microphone for one of the more dramatic conclusions to the regular season in baseball history.
On Sept. 29, he called the home run by Evan Longoria that sent Tampa Bay to the playoffs after the Rays had trailed the Red Sox by nine games Sept. 3. The Orioles beat the Red Sox, also on walk-off fashion, the same day to give the wild card spot to the Rays over Boston.
(To hear Freed's call go to raysindex.com/wp-content/Audio/WDAE%20-%20Andy%20Freed.m4a)
Nice guy finishes on top
Freed has a passionate style but does not go overboard in inserting himself into the action during such dramatic moments.
And it is hard to find any colleagues who have something unpleasant to say about him. Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher's memoir was "Nice Guys Finish Last," but Freed is a clearly a nice guy who has made it to the top of his profession.
Freed's radio partner is Dave Wills, who spent five years as a broadcaster in the minors.
"We both joke that from March to October we see each other more than we see our wives," Wills says. "It is a true partnership away from the field as well, especially on the road. We head to lunch nearly every day. I could not have asked for a better road partner.
"The saying is, 'It's a long season and a small booth.' If you don't get along it can only get smaller.
"We both have some of the same background," Wills adds. "We were both raised middle class. We had to work through high school and college. It was not handed to us. We have paid our dues along the way. He is a professional and a great broadcaster and a better friend. I could not have asked for a better situation."
Former Columbia resident Rick Vaughn, the vice president of communications for the Rays since 1996, spent 10 years in the public relations office of the Orioles in the 1980s and 1990s but did not know Freed until he joined the Rays.
"He is someone who persevered through all the different levels," Vaughn says. "He has a great voice and he understands the game. Announcers are so important to the team marketing effort. People feel they know Dave and Andy after they listen to them every night. Andy is just a caring person and that comes across" in the broadcast.
Neal Solondz is in his first season as the pre and post-game host for the Rays' radio broadcast.
"I think he is absolutely terrific," Solondz says of Freed. "I was thrilled when I knew I had a chance to work with him. He is one of nicest guys in this business."
Dream come true
As a teenager growing up in Howard County, Freed would take a tape recorder to old Memorial Stadium and practice announcing while watching the Orioles' games. He honed his craft as a student at Towson, where he did basketball games for the campus radio station.
Freed invited Jon Miller, then the Orioles' broadcaster, to be a halftime guest at a basketball game at Towson in 1992. Miller later volunteered to mentor Freed and that led to an internship with the Orioles and later an internship with WBAL.
After college, Freed landed his first pro job as the voice of the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League. In an interview at that time with the Howard County Times, he said his goal was to make it to the big leagues.
And while he has done just that, Freed does not have a Major League ego.
"You can tell when you listen if someone is genuine or not. Andy is. He calls the game accurately and has a good sense of humor. He has the total package," says Solondz.
"This can be a business where they are some egos involved. Andy is not one of those people."