College of Education and Human Development
Sport management grad finds fast fame on the job in minor league baseball
September 5, 2019
By Greg Sullivan
There’s no question that CEHD graduate Nabih “Nino” Dandan now has a foot in the door already in the business of minor-league baseball.
It’s Dandan’s swift feet, in fact, that have recently brought so much good attention to his employer, the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers, the Atlanta Braves’s top minor league affiliate based in Atlanta’s suburbs.
Dandan’s sense of humor and creativity, honed at Mason, probably also deserve some of the credit for all the recent national headlines.
By day a corporate partnership trainee with the Stripers (named for a fish common in Georgia’s nearby Lake Lanier), on game nights Dandan dons on a skintight gray racing suit, goggles, and gym shorts as he transforms into his between-innings entertainment persona, “The Fridge.” At six feet two and around 300 pounds, most fans seem to expect Dandan to be a slow runner as he begins his footrace promotions that take place along the Stripers’s outfield fence. But there’s more to this Health, Fitness, and Recreation graduate than meets the eye.
Dandan, who completed his bachelor’s degree in 2017, gamely plays to the crowd’s expectation as he pretends to be winded and lumbers slowly as each race starts, allowing his opponent a lengthy head start.
That’s when, to the crowd’s surprise, he “turns on the jets,” as the former high school football player from Richmond, Virginia puts it. It’s a twist that parodies a more earnest footrace promotion that the Braves do down the road in Atlanta, and the crowd loves it, Dandan said.
In recent weeks, Dandan was on the popular TV segment ESPN SportsCenter “NOT Top 10 Plays of the Week,” earned new social media interactions in the millions, and was profiled by Runner’s World magazine, all much to the delight of the Stripers’s marketing department.
“I want the fans to have the reaction of, ‘oh he’s going to lose,’ and when I start slow, say, ‘look, I told you.’ Then, when I turn it on they go, ‘What?! What?!’” Dandan explained. “When we started it in late April, people in the stands were absolutely loving it. Then, in May we had one video on our Facebook channel that got several million interactions, and that’s when it blew up. It kept going and going.”
Toward the end of the season in August came the biggest break yet for The Fridge. He raced against a runner who looked to be in great shape and even got down into a sprinter’s stance and ran out to a big early lead. Then came the magic that ultimately got The Fridge featured on ESPN.
“The camera was at a perfect angle right when I turned on the jets. Then you could see me getting closer and closer and then I won. It’s really fun for the people who haven’t seen it,” Dandan said.
What he loves about working in minor league baseball is being able to put his creativity to good use, Dandan said. During the season, he’s at the office at 8:30 every morning and, when the team is on a home stand, won’t leave until very late at night. At his desk job, he ensures that details are all ironed out with sponsorship agreements and that the sponsors are each happy with what they’re getting. He also plans for upcoming games. A big key to enjoying the long hours during the season, Dandan said, is that the game portion of the job doesn’t feel like work.
He was able to intern with the Richmond Flying Squirrels minor league team and the Washington Redskins during his time at Mason, so Dandan had a pretty good sense of what he liked and didn’t like once he began looking for jobs. He also worked a couple of years for Mason Recreation, a stint beginning with a for-credit practicum course.
Especially after this season, which has seen him reach a level of fame usually only attained by players, he’s looking to stay in minor league baseball.
“I think I’ll continue with minor league baseball because I get to use the creative side of my brain,” Dandan said. “It’s not just about the fine print of partnership agreements; it’s about entertainment, too. You want fans coming out for promotions like “Beat The Fridge” or for special jersey promotions, things like that.”
Dandan said the job is certainly a lot of work but also very rewarding, and he thinks back on lessons learned in the classroom at Mason every day.
“Having the specific classes of the Sport Management concentration, like Andy Ruge for sports marketing, where he taught us about how the marketing side of all the different sports and how Mason Athletics operates, taught me a lot,” Dandan said. “Learning from Professor R. Pierre Rodgers in his classes that explained in-depth positions you can get with sports teams and having Professor Craig Esherick telling us from the beginning about different teams and how to get internships and jobs was extremely helpful. You’re getting a lot of professors who understand the real world.”
About the only thing he didn’t prepare for in school, he said, was his newfound fame. “It’s been a long season and my body hurts, but it’s been an awesome experience and I’ve loved every minute of it.”