He appeared out of nowhere, breezing past an unsuspecting, prematurely celebrating fan Friday between innings as the Atlanta Braves hosted the New York Mets at SunTrust Park. As the bewildered fan fell headfirst into Twitter infamy, the man known as “The Freeze” surged to social media stardom.
The man behind the ski goggles and arctic-blue bodysuit — 26-year-old Nigel Talton of Fort Valley, Ga. — has been a member of the Braves’ grounds crew since 2012 and a track athlete since his junior year at Peach County High School, where he also played football.
Talton ran for Iowa Wesleyan, where he broke a 23-year-old record during his freshman year before transferring to Shorter University. The first chance to showcase his running prowess for the Braves organization came during one of the final games at Turner Field last season, in another between-innings contest — usually reserved for fans — called the stolen base challenge.
To win, fans had to run from the left field corner, grab a base in the outfield behind second and bring it back to the start within 20 seconds. Talton had plenty of time to spare.
“I did it in like 13 or 14 seconds,” Talton said. “Then [the Braves organization] contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a new thing that we’re trying to do at the new stadium. Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Sure, I like to run.’ ”
Enter “The Freeze,” tasked with chasing down fans given the advantage of an enormous head start. But transitioning from the eight-lane track — where he’s clocked personal bests of 6.73 seconds in the 60-meter dash (indoors), 10.47 in the 100 and 21.66 in the 200 — to the warning track was no easy task.
For one, the route along the outfield fence at SunTrust Park isn’t the same distance as the events he trains for. And while runners are no strangers to spandex, “The Freeze” costume presented some challenges.
“Mainly with the big ol’ goggles, it was a big adjustment,” Talton said. “I’m used to running in those kind of Boathouse speed suits or little short shorts for track meets.”
Talton decided to shut down his outdoor season this spring given the demands of working two separate jobs, taking classes while training with the track team at Kennesaw State. He briefly competed with a club team, as well.
“I was just putting so much stress on my body, so I shut my season down,” said Talton, whose full-time job as a school security guard ran from midnight to 8 a.m., after which he’d take a brief nap before heading to track practice at 10 a.m.
As for all the attention that has come his way since going viral, Talton “doesn’t mind it,” though his real-life bravado is toned down in comparison to his between-innings persona. Nonetheless, after initially laughing at the question, he did admit that he’d like the opportunity to race Brandon Phillips or Billy Hamilton, though he sees the possibility as highly unlikely.
The ultimate goal for Talton is “to make the USA team before I’m completely done running track.”
“I just want to inspire people not to give up on their dreams no matter what, even if your path is detoured,” said Talton, who noted his “path was detoured” from the Rio Olympics to his new aim, the 2018 world indoor championships in England.
Rather than dwell on a missed opportunity, Talton plans to make the most of his latest chance to show what he can do with his legs.
“I never know what’ll happen out of this ‘Beat The Freeze’ contest,” Talton said. “I’m just blessed and waiting, waiting for whatever opportunity come across my way.”