To members of the Gwinnett Stripers front office, he’s Nabih “Nino” Dandan, corporate sales trainee.
Most of the team’s fans, however, know him better as “The Fridge,” the Stripers’ version of Nigel “The Freeze” Talton, the former high school and college sprinter who gives Atlanta Braves fans a head start in a race along warning track from foul pole to foul pole each home game, and usually erases that deficit to win.
At 6-foot-2 and right around 300 pounds, The Fridge is considerably larger and not quite as fast as The Freeze, though he has about the same success rate in his races between innings of Stripers home games, though by a different method — getting a head start and then turning on his speed after his opponent passes him.
Though Dandan got the idea for his character by seeing Talton’s work as The Freeze even before joining the Stripers’ staff this year, he does have an athletic background, having played football in high school.
Staff writer David Friedlander recently spoke to him to get a glimpse of the man behind the goggles and spandex speed suit, and got some interesting insight about him, including a surprising way he became considerably faster than he looks.
DF: First, if I may talk to Nino, where are you from originally?
ND: I’m actually from Richmond (Va.).
DF: That’s an interesting coincidence, since the Stripers were the old Richmond Braves before moving to Gwinnett 11 years ago.
ND: Yeah, I would always watch the (R-Braves’) games (while growing up) and going out to the games and always had a lot of fun. Before I moved down here, we didn’t for a little while. Then the (Richmond) Flying Squirrels came in (to the Double-A Eastern League in 2010).
DF: So what brought you down here to Gwinnett County?
ND: I was looking for a job, and I got one. (laughs)
DF: Your degree is in marketing?
ND: In sports management. I got it from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
DF: You’re a pretty big guy, though you look like you have an athletic background, even if it probably wasn’t as a sprinter in track and field.
ND: In high school, I played football. I was, like, an overweight nose tackle, third string. I did nothing, really. It was more in college — I started playing Quidditch (with friends and classmates for GMU’s recreational club team). Then after college, I played on a team in the area. Then I played major league Quidditch, which is the highest step up of Quidditch. That’s where I figured out, “Oh wait, I have some (athletic) talent.”
DF: But I have to think you at least had some of that speed and quickness while you were still playing high school, didn’t you?
ND: That’s the thing. I didn’t have that speed back then. (Laughs) They would put in as a nose tackle in goal line situations to just be fat and be in the middle (of the defensive line).
DF: So in all seriousness, how big are you?
ND: I’m 6-2, 300.
DF: So I’m sure opponents who just look at you and see that size and it’s easy for him or her to get overconfident. But now that you’ve shown that you actually do have surprising speed and have beaten most of your opponents, are people starting to catch on now?
ND: Still when they get out there — a lot of these people, they’re challenging me. So I always (get up for) any challenge. Once we get out there, they think they can (win), and then they (start running) and realize how long (the race) actually is. That’s when I really get them. They think they can beat me, but they don’t realize how long it is and how much stamina you have to have.
DF: And more than one of your opponents have run out of gas by getting out of the gate too fast. Is that strategy something you learned playing Quidditch?
ND: A little bit, yeah. You can see once they get about three-fourths of the way they’re losing a little speed. That’s when I really make my move and go for the kill, basically.
DF: So did you volunteer to do this? How did The Fridge get started?
ND: Once I came down here, I suggested it as an idea, and I knew I was fast. I knew I had some speed. I always liked watching The Freeze race whenever I saw him on TV. I’m glad we have such great management here that lets us run with ideas like that.
DF: Now, your color scheme of your suit is a little different from The Fridge’s — silver instead of the sky blue. Any significance as to why, or is it just a random luck of the draw of what was available?
ND: The big thing was (choosing a color so that) everyone could see me with the color. When I was on Amazon trying to pick out the suit, they didn’t have it in my size. So I had to go about one or two sizes too small. But as long as it fits and it stays on, it’s good.
DF: Now, if I may direct a question to The Fridge himself, you’ve sandbagged some people really well throughout the season. While some more regular fans may have caught on, others haven’t. Do you like toying with fans who haven’t?
TF: Oh yeah. It’s the best messing with people because they really don’t expect once we get out there just how fast I am. Looks can be deceiving.
DF: One thing you definitely seem to enjoy is when you know you’ve got a race won, you like to let your opponent know about it. And if I may say, you do a pretty mean high step down the stretch. How did you incorporate that into your game plan?
TF: I don’t know. I guess I’ve just watched too much football. (Laughs) I’ve seen a whole lot of guys doing that in the NFL in touchdown celebrations, stuff like that. That’s my signature move now.
DF: It kind of backfired on you when you took things up a notch and started running backwards a few weeks ago. You had a little mishap and fell, which not only cost you the race, but it put you on the injured list for precautionary reasons for a little while, didn’t it?
TF: I haven’t been out there since. Tonight is my first race back. (Note: This interview was conducted the Stripers’ game with Rochester on July 19). Looking forward to getting back out there finally after two weeks since that last race. But everything is fine. I’m perfectly fine after that last race.
DF: Only your pride was hurt?
TF: Yeah, only the pride. Now I know. I’m never running backwards again. (laughs)
DF: I guess you learned your lesson. Are you taking the races a little more seriously now?
TF: Yeah, I’m trying not to lose the rest of the season. (Note: He’s won his first two races since returning after the two week absence). Write that down.
DF: Well, that last crash notwithstanding, you’ve had a pretty good record this year — almost as good as The Freeze. Even though he’s more trained as a sprinter, any thoughts about challenging him head-to-head one of these days? You think he’ll give you enough of a head start, and you can catch him off guard?
TF: You never know. If he wants to come challenge me, we’ll do it — any time, any place.
DF: There’s also the Rome Braves’ version of you. I think he calls himself The Heat.
TF: If he wants to come challenge me, too, let’s do it.
DF: Now to talk to Nino once again, do you feel this whole experience with The Fridge and your job with the team has helped you as you try to forge a career in sports management and promotion?
ND: Really, I just want to get my foot in the door with sports with a position like this. I do believe everything I’ve learned here throughout this whole season has just been awesome. I’m loving every minute of it.