He knew of the Detroit Red Wings player. He had heard of a BMX rider, as well.
But beyond that, Towson resident George S. Nyquist Jr. hadn't encountered his unusual last name often in his 62 years.
In the days since a colt named Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby on May 7, however, "Everybody's aware of it, let's put it that way," Nyquist said. "I had 51 text messages about an hour and a half after the race finished."
"Everyone was asking about that sign," he added.
That sign being the one over left field at Camden Yards that bears Nyquist's name — the name of the auto paint supply shop his parents founded in 1955, now based in Hampden with several other locations.
"Before, it was just another sign out there," Nyquist said.
Though it took the horse's win to thrust the Nyquist name into the public consciousness, Nyquist's introduction to the 3-year-old horse, and to horse racing, occurred earlier.
Nyquist remembers well the days when the Preakness-goers were allowed to bring their own alcohol to the infield. "It got out of hand," he said.
"It was one of those things where I was in college, and a lot of people I knew were going to the infield having a good time. The infield was just one big party, and it happened to have a race that day."
Eventually, Nyquist thought, "Heck with it — I'd like to see the race," he said. He attended a rainy Preakness, and while infielders were stuck in the mud, Nyquist was enjoying seats in the dry grandstand, sipping black-eyed Susans.
"I just started buying tickets year after year after year," beginning in the late 1970s, he said.
Last year, Nyquist had a hunch that American Pharoah could be the horse to win it all, so he "bought stupidly expensive tickets" to attend the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown.
"When American Pharoah went around the last turn and came down the stretch and you could see him pulling away, everybody in that place knew he was going to win, and the stands were shaking," he said. "I knew it was a special horse, and that's when I decided I was going to go to the Breeders' Cup, because it was going to be American Pharoah's last race."
By the time the Breeders' Cup came around, on Halloween last year, Nyquist's mother's health had taken a turn. Anna Marie Nyquist, then 92, had lung cancer, and George Nyquist was in Florida caring for her.
A few days before the race, a friend called George Nyquist to tell him that a horse of the same name would be racing at the Breeders' Cup, in the preparatory race for 2-year-olds. The coincidence astounded George, but he didn't think he could leave his mother.
George's cousin, Laura Delozier, a horse trainer, volunteered to take care of Anna Marie, while George watched both Nyquist and American Pharoah win their respective races. His mother and Delozier watched on TV, George said.
"[Nyquist] was just in front and as he was coming down the stretch I was screaming and yelling," he said. "The horse won the race and I couldn't believe it."
Nyquist brought home a souvenir betting ticket bearing the horse's name and taped it to his mother's mirror. She died a month later.
"The whole thing was neat, because my mother was failing and anything to try to raise her spirits or make her happy, I tried to do anything I could," he said. "She was super excited about a horse with her name on it."
Nyquist this year attended the Kentucky Derby for the first time, a "bucket list" item for him. He has tickets to the Preakness, and thinks the horse can take it all.
"I really do. ... I'm probably a little prejudiced," he said.
Though having the same name as a prize-winning horse is only "dumb luck," Nyquist said, he's grateful that it gave his mother something to smile about.
"Obviously I would have found the name out, but the whole experience puts a little heartstring on it," he said. "Rather than just a horse, it means something to me."
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