Radio and baseball go hand in hand, more so than any other sport. Yeah, sure, football has became America’s sport of choice in popularity but it isn’t the same. Imagine a lazy summer day. It’s hot. You debate what to do. You look on the internet and the Rays are playing. You are a writer so your eyes cannot be distracted by Evan Longoria hitting a grand slam. Instead you click on the radio icon on MLB.com. You settle in, with your significant other by your side and try to figure out why the hero in your new screenplay is so dull. Then, Andy Freed and Dave Wills, the Tampa Bay Rays’ radio announcers, welcome you to Tropicana Field. If you can look me in the eye and tell me there is anything better, you know something I don’t.
From Red Barber, Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Mike Shannon, Jerry Coleman, Harry Kalas and others, baseball fans have been privileged to listen to some of the legendary broadcasters call their beloved teams’ games. Just as amazing today are not only the broadcasters, but how their broadcasts are transmitted. In this era of instantaneous video, a little boy in Portland, Oregon can watch the Tampa Bay Rays no matter where Joe Maddon and his merry band may roam. Isn’t that incredible?
I’m not even going to attempt to give you the history of the broadcast history of baseball, because A) I’d have to do research and B) It would probably bore you. What I can do is tell you about my story. I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana (same as Kevin Kiermaier), and in Indiana, you are trapped in the Bermuda triangle as a baseball fan. Who you support depends on which way you travel. My father was a Chicago Cubs fan. How he became one, I don’t know. This was the era of WGN TV and Harry Caray and Steve Stone set the scene. They helped draw new fans in and Harry ruined it for all other announcers. He was informative, entertaining and a show onto himself. Steve Stone was his perfect compliment. Chip Caray followed his grandfather in the Cubs TV booth and, as strange as it is to say, I preferred him more. He was sharp, funny and neither he nor Steve sugarcoated the truth.
Anyway, a move to Portland took me away from my beloved Cubs. But MLB Gameday Audio was a godsend. Enter Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. Like Caray, Hughes is blessed with a sense of humor and a smooth delivery and Ron was Ron. He bled Cubbie blue and he didn’t care that anyone knew. But losing becomes monotonous and my attention began to wonder. In Tampa Bay, though, they were building something special and I began to check in on them.
In came Andy Freed and Dave Wills into my life. They sat beside me and told me what the Rays were doing some three thousand miles away. I introduced my girlfriend to them. I extolled their virtues to her. Both have the most important trait for an announcer: they are not bland. As smooth as Marv Albert or Brent Musberger are, they are bland. Both Andy and Dave are blessed with a sense of humor and they aren’t afraid to criticize when it is warranted. They make the game entertaining. I spent almost a year listening to the Rays before I ever saw them on TV. As familiar as their play was, it was an adjustment from the mental picture my mind had created. Even now, it is odd for me watching a Rays game and not hearing Andy and Dave narrate me through another Rays win.
We as Rays fans are extremely blessed by having two of the best voices in baseball. When I was growing tired of the Cubs constantly losing, the Rays brand of baseball immediately struck a chord.
Andy and Dave made me feel welcome.