Paul Byrd dominates hype battle, but not race against The Freeze

ATLANTA — He was everyman, clad in Rocky Balboa trunks, a flowing blonde mullet with a red, white and blue headband and googles — and like nearly every man that tried to beat The Freeze this season at SunTrust Park, Paul Byrd was left in the dust.

The Freeze (Nigel Talton) caught the former Braves pitcher by the time he’d reached the right-center portion of the warning track, coasting to a win after the seventh inning of Sunday’s home finale against the Phillies.

“The Freeze got him by about 10 strides,” FOX Sports South announce Chip Caray said as the sprinter broke the tape at the finish line.

That part went pretty much as expected for a 46-year-old former pitcher-turned-FOX-Sports-South-broadcaster racing a sprinter with Olympic aspirations.

But was it ever about the race? Who are we kidding? It was the deliciously tongue-in-cheek buildup that truly made the final 2017 installment of Atlanta’s viral in-game entertainment.

“Thunder Byrd,” as he dubbed himself, pointed out back in July when the race was announced that he was brought in during a game in 2000 as a pinch runner with the Phillies — but he didn’t score. Speed had never been his forte. His opponent, the 26-year-old Talton, who is trying to make the 2018 World Indoors in the 60m, has been clocked at 10.47 seconds in the 100m.

Undaunted, Byrd put in the work, taking on a retired racehorse in a pasture (it didn’t end well) and going through Rocky-esque training that included pulling a FOX Sports South fan and working out with containers of antifreeze.

He was, without question, all in on being the conductor of his own hype train.

He even asked Braves for help, among them hitting up Matt Adams — who has four stolen bases in 579 career games — who reminded Byrd “I don’t know if you noticed this, but I’m not much of a burner on the base paths.”

The Freeze showed Byrd all he should have needed to see, playing back one of his best moments, when a fan collapsed as he blew past. The fan’s head had been replaced by that of Byrd.

But Byrd’s fire was only stoked. He was waking up at — gasp! — 11 a.m. to train for his impending battle with the goggled speedster.

Granted the typical 200-foot head start before The Freeze takes off from the left-field foul line, Byrd started strong but faded as he reached center field, and his opponent coasted to the win.

Winded, Byrd raised The Freeze’s arm before bending down to catch his breath. As Hall of Famer Tom Glavine put it from the broadcast booth “Paul would like to do an interview, but he can’t talk at the moment.”

The Freeze, after letting his legs do the talking, went to Twitter for one final dig at Thunder Byrd.

Yes, Byrd won the buildup. But the race and its aftermath? Those belong to The Freeze.

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