LOS ANGELES -- The beauty of being a baseball fan now is the sheer volume of content available at our fingertips. Not only is nearly every single major league game available to watch (yes, I know many can't watch the Dodgers in Los Angeles, but stay with me here), but several levels of minor league teams are easy to follow as well.
This is the second season the Dodgers have Oklahoma City as their Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, a team partially owned by the Dodgers. If you have listened to or watched an OKC game since the start of last season, you have undoubtedly heard the voice of Alex Freedman, currently in his fifth season calling games for Oklahoma City.
Freedman was kind enough to take some time for an interview about life in the minors, plus his thoughts on Julio Urias and others.
Because Urias was scheduled to start for Oklahoma City on Thursday, they will have to make a roster move to replace him. Through Wednesday's game, the 44th of the season, OKC made 75 player transactions this year. That is well behind the fast-paced 2015 season, when the roster-churning first-year Dodgers front office made for 334 transactions in Oklahoma City's 144-game season.
"For me at times it was very stressful. It was your first year with a new affiliation, and you're 50-percent owned by the parent club. I'm one who holds myself to a very high standard in terms of having everything as accurate as possible, and not wanting to be the reason we have a flub with the roster or anything like that," Freedman recalled. "It was a learning process for everybody last year."
The club adapted on the fly, finishing 86-58, the best record in the PCL.
"The fact that we had as good a record as we did with that revolving door always spinning makes our record even more impressive, because there was very little continuity with our roster last year, especially with the pitching," Freedman said. "This season, the first few weeks of the year we had three uninterrupted turns through the rotation. There is no chance that happened last year."
Freedman calls games for Oklahoma City, but his job doesn't end there. As director of broadcasting and media relations, he has to deal with outside media requests, photo requests, writers like me bugging him for something or other, coordinate transaction information, and write the daily game notes.
And he is also his own engineer for most games, cutting highlights from the night before, and sometimes on the road handles the team's social media efforts.
For a 7 p.m. game, Freedman estimates his day starts at 10:30 a.m., and he tries to solely focus on that night's broadcast around 3 p.m.
"Writing the game notes helps out immensely," Freedman notes. "Yeah, it's a lot of work, but pretty much my preparation, outside of writing things in my scorebook, is done by that point just from writing the game notes.
"I tell people that what I do is not performing surgery, but you can't just roll out of bed and do it. It takes a lot of time and preparation every day."
Freedman is from St. Louis and went to Northwestern. Though he did some announcing in college, he never thought much of making a career out of it.
"It never, ever crossed my mind. I really just kind of did it for fun in college," he said. "Then graduation was rolling around and I didn't know what I was going to do.
"While I was in school I worked part time with a television production company. A couple of the people I worked with there — one of which had done play-by-play early in his career, another had worked for a couple of major league front offices in the marketing department — and both knew I had done it, heard my stuff, and thought I had at least a decent idea of what I was doing. They suggested I try to do it within minor league baseball because there are so many teams, and I was fortunate to get a job before the next baseball season and I've been doing it since."
Freedman starts here in the California League, calling games for High Desert in Adelanto for three years (2007-2010), then found his way to Oklahoma City in 2012. In 2013, Freedman and his crew were named the "Best Play-by-Play" broadcast by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters.
Even though he didn't know what he wanted to do right out of college, Freedman has come to love his job, one that could one day lead to a call up of his own.
"Yeah, I'd love it. But now that I've done this for so long, I don't think I'm really good at anything else," he said. "Even as crazy and hectic as my schedule is for six months out of the year, it's hard for me to imagine not being at a ballpark every single day.
"I know I have the ability to do it at the major league level."
Minor league stories
You know life in the minors is tough, especially relative to the majors. Even at Triple-A. Check out this road trip this week for Oklahoma City.
About to embark on quite the journey: Bus to OKC airport. Flight to LAX, with stop in Vegas. Bus to Fresno from LA. Will be timing it all.— Alex Freedman (@azfreedman) May 22, 2016
I am always a sucker for the stories when major league veterans on rehab assignments buy postgame meals for their teammates. It was more of a big deal before the Dodgers instituted a policy of having fresh, organic meals prepared at home at all of their minor league levels. But it still can be an issue at times on the road.
In 2015, Chris Heisey and Darwin Barney were both veterans who spent a lot of time in Triple-A, and while not on rehab assignments they were making a good salary — Barney at $2.525 million and Heisey at $2.16 million. Freedman had high praise for those two as veteran leaders last year for the team.
"You hear the terms pro's pro, and that was [Heisey]," Freedman said. "He and Darwin Barney, any time we were on the road, say it was a bus trip and we stopped at a gas station, they paid for everybody's snacks and stuff — players, coaches, me, anyone else."
Freedman also said that Heisey and Barney bought a ping pong table for the OKC clubhouse.
Freedman this year has seen Urias pitch eight times, with the Dodgers' top pitching prospect posting an absurd 1.10 ERA, including a 27-inning scoreless streak before his call-up to start on Friday.
It is a night-and-day difference from the end of 2015, when a fatigued Urias allowed nine runs and 17 baserunners in just 4⅓ innings in his two cup-of-coffee starts in Triple-A to end the season.
"I think we all knew there would be some growing pains last year. I think everyone was surprised at the extent he struggled, just because of his great track record," Freedman recalled. "It was pretty apparent, I thought, in his first start last year, you could almost see the thought bubble from his head, saying, 'Wait a second, these guys aren't swinging at pitches I'm used to guys swinging at,' and he tried to compensate by essentially throwing balls right down the plate. Guys during that time were taking advantage of that.
"He came in this year with a different attitude. Talking with him, he said he took it personally, struggling last year, and really wanted to make sure that nothing close to that would happen this season."
Urias this season has 44 strikeouts and eight walks in 41 innings, with a WHIP of 0.780. Opposing batters in the PCL hit just .178/.226/.257 against the left-hander.
"Just the stuff is a lot crisper, the way he attacks hitters. Our pitching coach [Matt Herges], who has been with him the last couple of years, said in the past there have been times where something in a game — maybe a seeing-eye single here, an error there — he wouldn't handle well. It would snowball," Freedman said. "But this year [Urias] is doing a good job of putting that stuff behind him and just attacking the next hitter. Even during this scoreless streak, the only game he probably had all his pitches working was the near no-hitter against New Orleans.
"Every opposing team you talk to are believers. They have confirmed that yeah, this guy is pretty good and he's got really good stuff."