ATLANTA -- Every superhero has a back story, of course, and so it is for The Freeze, who came to life on June 9, 2017, when Nigel Talton saw that guy celebrating.Talton is a 26-year-old mild-mannered security guard and member of the Atlanta Braves' grounds crew. He loves to run.
ATLANTA -- Every superhero has a back story, of course, and so it is for The Freeze, who came to life on June 9, 2017, when Nigel Talton saw that guy celebrating.
Talton is a 26-year-old mild-mannered security guard and member of the Atlanta Braves' grounds crew. He loves to run. He was a small college sprinter, a pretty darned good one at Iowa Wesleyan and Shorter University. He ran a sub-10.5 second 100-meters, which isn't quite world-class speed, but it's pretty darned close. He finished third at 60 meters in the NAIA Track Championships. Talton believes that with the right kind of coaching, he can become world class.
In any case, this Freeze stuff -- that was all fun. Last year, on a lark, he asked the Braves if he could try the Stolen Base Challenge, where a contestant has 20 seconds to race in from the outfield, steal second base, and bring it back. Talton did it in 13. And that's what gave the Braves' promotion people an idea.
"They came up to me and said, 'We've got this idea -- would you be willing to race fans between innings if we give them a big head start," Talton said. "And I'm like: 'Sure.'" Well, he does love to run. The promotion was for the frozen drinks at RaceTrac gas stations. He would be called The Freeze. And fans would try to Beat The Freeze.
On Opening Day, he was wearing his regular track outfit, and he warmed up outside in the parking lot by the busses, and there was a sellout crowd at the new SunTrust Park. The Braves' folks gave the other guy a HUGE lead, I mean, a ridiculous lead. The promotional rule is that Nigel can't run until the starter tells him to go. Talton made a valiant effort, but he couldn't quite catch the guy. It was quirky and fun, and ultimately not that memorable.
The idea of sprinters racing people at baseball games is not new; it goes back a long time. Jesse Owens used to go to Negro Leagues games and race against players (though, legend has it, he refused to race Cool Papa Bell). Still, there was something about The Freeze race that stuck with Talton.
"Running in front of all those people," he said, "I liked it."
Did losing bother you?
"No," he said. "Not at all. It's for the fans."
See, he wasn't The Freeze, not yet. First thing, he had the get the official superhero uniform -- all superheroes must have a uniform. This one turned out to be a glorious aqua spandex thing along with goggles that Nigel pretends are shades. "It's not THAT different from a track outfit," Nigel says.
But just getting a uniform wasn't enough either. He had to find his arch-enemy. And that happened on June 9.
"Need some big fan support tonight!" The Freeze tweeted out. "The Freeze is back to get his revenge."
That night, he faced an athletic fan who was wearing his hat backward and who seemed pretty confident going in. He was promptly given an enormous lead, the sort of lead that left The Freeze in the starting gate thinking to himself, "Hey, can I go already?" By the time The Freeze got going, the guy was probably 250 feet ahead, maybe more. It looked like another blah night. But then the Freeze began to hit his stride, began pulling the guy in, it was a marvelous thing to watch. The crowd started to go crazy.
This was different.
And that's when, the opponent did something that arch-enemies always do: He got cocky. Supervillains can't help but tell Batman their plans as he writhes in an overly elaborate death trap. They can't help but leave the scene even as Superman fights for his life against the Kryptonite, muttering about how they have "more important matters elsewhere," as if there can be anything more urgent than getting rid of Superman. This arch-enemy opponent began to exhort the crowd a little bit, waving his arms up and down, celebrating himself as the finish line approached.
"I saw that," The Freeze says, "and I thought, "No, no, no. Not on my watch." Nigel raced by, the poor guy fell to the ground in shock and awe, and that's when The Freeze was born.
"I didn't know he had fallen down," The Freeze said. "I turned around to shake his hand, and he was on the ground. I didn't really know what had happened until I got back inside and looked at my phone. You know how social media is."
Yes, The Freeze was a sensation. Talton may be a mild-mannered security guard and grounds crew worker with track and field dreams, but The Freeze, our hero, became about something more: something never giving up; something about action being louder than words; something about non-CGI Superhero awesomeness.
And suddenly everyone was talking about The Freeze. Olympian Lolo Jones announced she wanted to be The Freeze for a day. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright tweeted about The Freeze being the most awesome promotion ever in baseball. There were tweets and retweets, hundreds of thousands of them. Pitchers in the bullpen and players in the dugout began coming out to watch The Freeze races. The Freeze started showing up in pop culture references.
Baseball fans when looking for game results also wondered: How did The Freeze do tonight and is there video?
"It's been crazy," The Freeze says.
And then Talton: "I'm hoping it will open up some opportunities."
"Winter is coming," The Freeze said.
"I believe my best sprinting days are ahead of me," Talton said.
Talton would like very much to make the U.S. World Indoors track team. He does believe that with the right coaching, it can happen. And Olympics? Maybe. He holds on to hope. He has his belief.
Meanwhile, the Freeze just lost a race, and Atlanta is still shuddering about it. But The Freeze will be back. Over the weekend, Cleveland rookie Bradley Zimmer announced on Twitter that he wants a piece of The Freeze. Nigel Talton smiled and said, "That was pretty cool."
And then The Freeze smiled and said. "I want Billy Hamilton."
Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com.