It’s November of 1989, and the Albany Patroons are about to host the Omaha Racers at the Washington Avenue Armory for the season opener.
The Pats had a new coach, former General Manager Gerald Oliver, and most of their nucleus from the 1988-89 season (Mario Elie, Vince Askew, Clinton Smith).
But before the game began, the team and fans remembered one man not in the Armory that night – Fritz Walker, the Pats’ number one fan, who passed away on November 9th.
Fritz Walker was a huge fan of the game, in spirit as well as size. His heart and love for the Patroons was as large as his body, and the team accepted him as its own official mascot. An accomplished photographer, Fritz took pictures of every player and every play. When teams came to Albany, Fritz took their team photos. “When you think about Fritz,” Lowes Moore told the Times Union’s Tim Wilkin, “you think about him out having a good time and enjoying life. He was the kind of guy you would never think would pass away.”
Walker’s dancing brought him his greatest notoriety. During the fourth quarter, or if the Patroons were starting to lose, Fritz would step onto the field during a time out, dancing and bouncing and shaking while the public address system played “Shout!” He danced during the Patroons’ first telecast on ESPN, and Fritz’s boogie appeared on some “lighter side of sports” videotape compilations.
Depending on the opponent, he varied his dance with a prop or two, as team statistician Doug Dickinson remembered. “I will never forget in 1985, when the Puerto Rico Coquis were in the league, he came to a game dressed up with a grass skirt on, with a big sign on him, ‘WHAT THE HELL IS A COQUIS?’ It’s just the funniest thing you ever want to see.”
And Walker saw lots of Patroon games – even the ones outside the Armory. “He’d make at least one road trip a year with them,” said Dickinson. “He went on a 10-day road trip through Savannah, Georgia, Tampa, Biloxi, and he went on the road with them. When we had teams in Worcester, Bangor, Lancaster, he’d call me up, ‘Doug, let’s go.’ So we’d get in his car or my car and we’d go to the games.”
Tim Wilkin’s favorite Fritz Walker story involved the 1988 Championship Series. Down 3 games to 2, the Patroons arrived in Newark for a connecting flight to Albany. Walker was there to greet them. Gary Holle gave his gold credit card to Walker, and told him to get the Pats some dinner in Jersey, on Holle. Holle suggested the team dine at McDonald’s or a sub shop, but Walker shrewdly asked Micheal Ray Richardson (who knew the area best) to find an eatery somewhere in town.
Richardson happily obliged, and the Patroons devoured ten main courses (along with three entrees apiece) at a 5-star restaurant. When the waiter arrived with the bill (almost $800, including tip), Walker handed over Holle’s credit card without another word. Buoyed by Fritz Walker’s kindness (and by a four-course meal apiece), the Patroons won the last two games of the Championship.
For most people, there are four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Fritz Walker had two seasons on his calendar – Patroons season and A-C Yankees season. The A-C Yankees honored Walker’s memory by creating the Walker Cup, a trophy given to the most valuable Albany-Colonie player (past recipients include major leaguer Bernie Williams and Olympic gold medalist Dave Silvestri).
A banner was raised in the Armory – “FRITZ” was all it said. A white circle bearing Fritz’ name was painted on the floor, the spot where Walker danced for the fans.
The crowd observed a moment of silence.
Just then, the strains of “Shout” played through the speakers one more time. “A little bit softer now – A little bit softer now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now!”
“Shout!” blared through the public address system, a tribute to the man who boogied every fourth quarter of every Pats game. Some of the crowd sang along, some cheered, others clapped.
And during the game, which Albany won 110-103, many couldn’t take their eyes off the white circle on the court. Or the “FRITZ” banner hung in the rafters, in an area reserved for championship banners.
The 6th Patroon would have been proud to be included in such regal company.