Beat the Freeze: Braves' promotional race off and running
ATLANTA (AP) When Atlanta Braves grounds crewmember Nigel Talton was asked during the offseason if he wanted to race fans as a part of an in-game promotion, he had no idea it was the start of something special.
The Braves in-game promotion - ''Beat The Freeze'' - has made Talton somewhat of a national celebrity.
Fans are selected before the game to race The Freeze. They receive a head start in the sprint around the outfield wall at SunTrust Field, while Talton -a former college sprinter wearing an electric blue superhero-like outfit - attempts to catch them in a dash to the finish line.
He usually does.
Talton has received national media attention as The Freeze. The Olympic hopeful has been the subject of a Washington Post article and interviewed on ESPN's SportsCenter.
''If someone told me last summer I'd be here where I am now, I wouldn't believe them,'' said Talton, from Fort Valley, Georgia. ''My phone has been blowing up every second. It doesn't stay charged.''
Talton, 26, ran at Iowa Wesleyan, then NAIA Shorter University, before transferring to Kennesaw State, where he currently studies sport management and expects to graduate in December.
The Braves' promotion picked up traction earlier this month when the finish featured an unexpected twist . In the final stretch of a race, a fan got a little cocky approaching the finish line.
''After he celebrated the first time and pointed to his friends I was like `oh yeah, I've gotta catch him,'' Talton said. ''In my head I was just saying `get your knees up, Nigel.' I didn't know he fell. I asked what happened and they said he face-planted.''
The unplanned gaffe was an instant internet hit.
Last week, another hapless fan ended up on the ground .
But before Talton started face-planting fans, he was just another member of the Braves grounds crew.
He joined the grounds crew in 2012, and his speed quickly drew the eye of co-workers. They first noticed how fast he was when it came time to change the bases out mid-game.
Talton would sprint from right field to third base while other crew members, who opted to take the shorter route and head to first base, couldn't help but be impressed how quickly Talton got to third.
Then, during last season's final game at Turner Field, Talton zipped through a ''stolen base'' in-game promotion for fans. ''I did it in 14, 15 seconds,'' Talton nonchalantly said.
It all got the Braves thinking.
''We also knew that Nigel runs a (10.47) 100-meter dash,'' said Braves vice president of marketing Adam Zimmerman, referring to Talton's top college time. ''The whole premise is somebody super fast . Nigel was game for it.''
While his popularity continues to grow, he certainly doesn't live the lavish lifestyle of a superhero.
In addition to his job with the grounds crew, he works a warehouse job with Amazon working 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. After his one appearance during the game as The Freeze, Talton changes back into his grounds crew uniform.
In between his jobs, Talton trains to stay in track shape with hopes of landing in the 2018 Indoor World Championships next March in Birmingham, England. He needs to place in the top-2 at next year's U.S. Indoor Championships Feb. 16-18 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to get there.
These are stepping stones to his ultimate goal: competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He's confident he can qualify, though if he could get a sponsor it would allow him to quit at least one job and train more.
Whether his role as The Freeze may not help him secure a sponsor, it sure isn't hurting him.
The Braves have fielded several requests to either race The Freeze, or fill-in for Talton. Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones has even made a public request .
For now, the Braves say they will continue to choose random fans before games to participate, but have hinted they have a plan to include a ''well-known athlete'' in the near future.
''We have been inundated with requests to race The Freeze,'' Zimmerman said. ''We will consider some of those as options. We have also been inundated with world-class athletes who say if The Freeze ever needs a break or vacation, they'd be happy to step in.''
Talton hopes his story of chasing his dream will motivate others not to give up on their goals.
''I just like to entertain the fans,'' Talton said. ''And I just want to inspire others not to give up on their dreams. No matter what, if this is just a detour, I don't know where it'll lead me. I'm just taking it one day at a time.''
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