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New team in town might just get it
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published March 25, 2005
It's only the preseason, and they are still soaking in their team, so it would be premature to judge new Devil Rays announcers Dave Wills and Andy Freed.
Two months ago, they didn't even know each other.
But this we can say: They are an improvement.
A big improvement.
As the Devil Rays embark on a new broadcasting era, moving from original home WFLA-AM 970 to WHNZ-AM 1250, producing their own coverage and selling their own ads, they have found the right tandem to help make the venture less risk and more reward.
A winning team would be the biggest boost, of course, but in Wills and Freed the Devil Rays have two young announcers (40 and 33, respectively) who obviously are thrilled in their new posts. They share No. 1 duties and already inject a dimension of freshness and excitement that has been lacking in Devil Rays broadcasts.
More important, they bring two distinct styles and voices, something predecessors Paul Olden and Charlie Slowes seemed to lack as the seasons passed. At times, it was difficult to distinguish one from the other, and an apparent lack of genuine chemistry between the two didn't help.
That said, Olden and Slowes did have to endure seven seasons of depressing baseball.
Freed and Wills may be an energetic duo now, but what if we check back after a few seasons?
"I can't imagine the feeling not lasting," said Freed, who called games for the Pawtucket Red Sox the past four seasons. "Having teams that have not been successful, that can be a very difficult position.
"But I've done minor-league baseball in Single A, at a not very good game that went until 12:30 in the morning and 25 people were left in the crowd. You sit there going, "Is anybody listening?' If you can keep that alive and have enthusiasm, this is easy."
Besides, Freed said, he doesn't foresee another long stretch of dreadful Devil Rays baseball. Replacing two guys who never really got established, covering a team they think is on the rise and hoping to revive interest in Rays on the radio made the prospect of the job even more appealing than having to replace, say, a legend like Vin Scully.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think the team is ready to take a big step," said Wills, a 10-year veteran of Chicago White Sox baseball, doing pregame shows and filling in on game broadcasts.
Freed and Wills appear to appreciate the requirements of a good baseball broadcast. They cite that special, one-on-one connection only the great ones seem able to establish with their listeners.
Their success will be measured by showing an ability to reduce baseball to its essence: elegant simplicity.
"The Devil Rays just wanted two guys sitting around talking baseball," Freed said.