By Tim Nazzaro
Fitchburg, MA – It was a brisk October morning on the campus of Fitchburg State University. The year was 2013, and an alumnus Jim Preston was sitting in his car with his iced coffee and his cheese-less bacon egg and cheese sandwich (more on this later). He was getting ready for the annual Fitchburg State Alumni baseball game and was eager to reconnect with his old friends from his 2008 team. He didn’t know he was going to be a viral sensation that morning. He didn’t know that an impromptu wrestling-gimmick video for his buddies in Florida would become the #2 video on Barstool Sports’ “Videos of the Year 2013” and lead him to fame. He didn’t know that three years later he, the One Man Thrillride, would have a cult-like following throughout the country. All he knew was he had a baseball game to play.
“We actually won the game,” Preston says over a beer at Slattery’s Restaurant, “we [the alumni] were all around 25 or 26 years old and we were a good team. If we had played them ten times, we probably would’ve lost nine. But they made some errors and we played well. It was just kind of a fluke thing.” Despite the surprise of being the first alumni team to beat the real Fitchburg State baseball team, nothing would compare to the surprise that awaited him when he went to check his phone after the game.
When Preston arrived back in his car, he was already a viral a sensation. But before he was a viral sensation, he was a regular Fitchburg State student. Jim Preston graduated from Fitchburg State University in 2008 with a degree in political science and some of his best friends in the world.
The excitement with which he talks along with his charismatic personality makes it easy to see why Jim Preston became a viral sensation. “It happened pretty fast,” he recalls, “[after the alumni game] I checked my Facebook and it said I reached 90,000 people. All my buddies were texting me ‘check Barstool, check Barstool, your video made it on the website’, so my first thought was, I’ve got to tell my boss.” Preston worked at a “super conservative corporate environment” as a medical sales rep and somehow had to explain the video to his boss. “I thought I was going to get fired,” he says with a slight chuckle, “turns out he loved the video.” It was another surprise in a day full of surprises.
“My wedding was basically like a Fitchburg state baseball reunion,” he gushes over an Angry Orchard beer with a shot of vanilla vodka. In recent years, pumpkin beer is usually the drink of choice, but the taps are out today. “We’ve stayed in contact… we might not talk for six months but when we get together it’s like we never miss a beat.”
It was this camaraderie that has stuck with Preston since his days as a falcon. “I mean, that’s the cool thing about playing a sport in college, you instantly have friends,” he says, “It was basically a lifestyle… we all played baseball, we were all jocks, we were instantly all great friends.” He also raves about Coach Jim Egbert, who made a profound impact on not only Preston, but the entire Fitchburg State Baseball program as well. “He turned the program around right before I got here,” Preston says, “then we went to the conference tournament three out of the four years I was here.”
Since that fateful day in 2013, Preston has started his own “Thrillride” brand, has made guest appearances on the popular Boston-based blog, Barstool Sports, and has even gotten the chance to meet with comedian Bill Burr. His internet persona almost catapulted him to a job as a professional wrestler in the WWE, although it ultimately didn’t pan out. “I was doing that shtick when I was trying to make it to the WWE, now I just kind of do it on the side for fun,” he confesses. “My intent was never to be this online thing, it just happened.” Although it has its perks, Preston admits that being internet famous is not always as great as it seems.
“We were on our honeymoon in Mexico. We walked through the door of the hotel and were checking in and somebody was like ‘oh my god that’s the one man Thrillride.’…that was crazy,” he and his wife recall with a laugh, “for me, [the shtick] got old fast.”
Now, three years after he put on a laser show the likes of which we have never seen before at an alumni baseball game, one could argue that the One Man Thrillride is still as popular as ever. He still dawns his Brett Hart sunglasses once a month for a wrestling promoter in the northeast, he still goes to the gym and hammers biceps for ninety minutes like an absolute savage, and he still comes up with witty catchphrases that strike a chord with college students and gym rats alike.
However, the (thrill)ride is slowing down, and is now working a regular job and is considering breaking into standup comedy. “I’m just a normal person,” he says, as he and his wife begin to say their goodbyes to their fellow alum at Slattery’s. He embraces his former captain as they both walk out the door, and give one final “see ya, dinks” as he walks out into the October afternoon.
In reality, Jim Preston is a regular guy who got famous overnight from his own personality. A regular guy who, 10 years ago, lived in Aubuchon Hall and endured the constant fire alarms; a regular guy who ate at Holmes Dining Hall and a regular guy who loved the game of baseball at Fitchburg State University.