June 2, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Some people say there is no such thing as a free lunch. That’s not always true, and sometimes a free lunch can be made even better. That’s what the Sandifer family of West Columbia recently learned. They were the lucky grand prize winners of the Steal-A-Meal promotion sponsored by FATZ Cafe during home baseball games at Founders Park. Their good fortune allowed Brandon, Mandy, and their sons, seven year old Nathan and five year old Noah, to attend a practice earlier this week, enjoy a meal from FATZ Cafe, and meet the South Carolina student-athletes and coaches.
“I was extremely happy,” Brandon said. “I had actually forgotten I had entered the contest when they called me. I’ve been a die-hard Gamecock my whole life, so it was exciting.”
“He just flipped out,” Mandy said. “You could not have picked a bigger fan.”
The contest, a collaboration between FATZ Cafe and Gamecock IMG Sports Marketing, allowed individuals to win a free meal from FATZ when the Gamecocks stole a base at each game at Founders Park this season. Contestants could register online at Gamecocksonline.com or at Founders Park and all winners, including the grand prize winners, were chosen at random. The corporate partnership between the Gamecocks and FATZ Cafe also included similar promotions during the football and women’s basketball seasons. The Sandifers arrived at Founders Park and were given a tour of the facility before practice.
“We went into the press room and took some pictures like we were having a press conference,” Brandon said. “We went through the indoor hitting cage, the coaches’ offices, and they took us through the player areas.”
The Sandifers then watched the Gamecocks practice for the upcoming NCAA Regional from the front row beside the dugout before checking out other areas of Founders Park.
“Some of players were interacting with us during practice,” Brandon said. “They came over and really made my boys feel special. It was a fun time.”
“The best part of it was seeing the amazement on my husband’s face and my kids getting a chance to meet the players,” Mandy said. “Nathan kept saying ‘Mom, is this for real?’ It was really special.”
I was just so impressed with the entire team. They’re quality guys with good character.
After practice, the family had a chance to enjoy a meal from FATZ Cafe and then had some one-on-one time with the Gamecocks.
“I met Coach (Chad) Holbrook and talked to him for a little bit,” Brandon recalled. “It was an awesome experience. We even had a visit from Cocky. Nathan loves (sophomore outfielder) Alex Destino, and Noah really loves DTW (junior outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams). They got to meet them, so they were so happy.”
“Nathan keeps saying ‘Mom, do you know who my best buddy is? It’s Alex Destino,’ ” Mandy said.
Having previously enjoyed watching the Gamecock student-athletes on game day, the Sandifers gained a better perspective on the student-athletes after sharing some time with the Gamecocks.
“I was just so impressed with the entire team,” Brandon said. “They’re quality guys with good character. I knew that Carolina Baseball was a good, quality program, but it was great to see how down to earth they were. They don’t expect to be treated like celebrities or anything like that. They were humble guys and a joy to be around.”
“They were just such nice guys,” Mandy added. “They really made an effort to talk to our sons, my husband and myself. That meant the world to my kids.”
The Sandifers have been Gamecock fans for a long time, and ironically, Brandon and Mandy’s first date before they were married was at a FATZ Cafe back in 2001.
"At FATZ, we promise genuine Southern hospitality and a spirited community connection, so any chance to bring a little joy to a local family makes our day," said Zac Painter, Vice President, Marketing for FATZ Cafe. "And, in addition to the Sandifers being die-hard Gamecock fans, they’re also long-time FATZ guests, so this couldn’t have worked out better.”
Brandon is a pastor at Pineview Baptist Church in West Columbia, and folks in the congregation shouldn’t be surprised if he works the experience into an upcoming sermon.
“All our folks know I’m a huge Gamecock fan so it will be in there somehow,” Brandon said. “We had a lot of fun. It was definitely a memorable experience. We’re very thankful for the opportunity.”
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