Wally the Beerman looks with disdain on the crowd filing into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. "Kids," Wally mumbles. The first 10,000 fans under 14 who show up today to see the Twins play Chicago get a plastic fishing-tackle box with rubber worms. You can't sell cold, frosty ones to 10,000 children.
Walter McNeil, 52, is the Dome's top beerman. On average, Wally dispenses 18 trays of 20 beers a game, earning 36 cents on every $2 beer sold. His closest competitor, Jerry the Beerman, sells around 15 trays. Three summers ago Wally set the Twins record of 33 trays. That's 660 beers. "The Tigers were in town," he recalls. "Everything just fell into place."
Wally, whose regular job is operations manager in a pharmaceutical firm, has worked the Dome since it opened in 1982. He merchandises himself like a multinational corporation, handing out Wally the Beerman business cards and match-books. Last season he gave away 5,000 Wally the Beerman baseball cards.
The Metrodome sits on 22 acres of downtown Minneapolis, its fiberglass roof rising like yeasty bread in an outsized baker's pan. Inside, it is dim and surprisingly cozy for a joint that seats 55,000. "There are 36 rows in the lower deck, 32 in the upper," says Wally. "The long aisles of the lower deck are set on a 37-degree angle, with 76 steps that are 18 inches deep. The upper-deck aisles are at 45 degrees, and have 68 steps that are only 12 inches deep. When you set your tray down in the upper deck, you've got to take the beers from the back. If you don't, the tray may flip up on you."
Today, Wally loads up each 34-pound tray of beer in a vending room behind home plate, the stadium's choicest location. The lower-deck area is packed with season-ticket holders who like to have their beer delivered to their seats. Wally sticks mainly to the rows behind the plate and the vistors' dugout. "Fans on the first base side drink more than fans behind third," he says sagely. "Third base fans are more conservative."
At 12:41, Wally makes his first pitch. "Coldbeerhere! Coldbeerhere!" he shouts in a voice that cuts through the Dome chatter like a metal shredder. Wally negotiates the steps as adroitly as a Sherpa scaling Everest.
He makes his first sale at 12:43 to a retired bank president wearing a WALLY'S MY BEERMAN T-shirt. By 12:51, Wally has covered six aisles and emptied the tray. His Converse lowtops seem to be spring-loaded. Soaked in sweat, he sprints back to the vending room.
By the time the national anthem is sung, at 1:10, he's midway through his third tray. He doffs his yellow visor and holds it over his heart. That's about the only time the whole afternoon that Wally stands still.
During the first four innings, he catches about seven seconds of action. The Twins have hit four homers, but Wally has seen only Tom Brunansky's. He descends Section 126 as the ball clears the centerfield fence. Wally pauses in momentary tribute, then turns around and bellows, "Real big league baseball beer here, sanctioned by the commissioner of baseball. Look for his signature in the bottom of the cup." A broad-backed man wearing a Crabby's Oyster Bar T-shirt buys one.
In the fifth, Wally runs into Igor the Peanut Man, who hawks the "Hall of Fame nuts that Harmon Killebrew eats." You'd think Igor would be a good setup man for a beer seller, but Wally doesn't agree. "My theory," he volunteers, "is if a fan's got peanuts in his hand, he may not have another one free to buy beer."
The guy in the Crabby T-shirt has a complaint. "Hey, Wally," he says. "I didn't get the commissioner's signature."
"You'd better get another beer," Wally says. "This isn't Cracker Jack—I don't guarantee a prize in every cup." Crabby orders two more.
Two innings later a foul ball heads roughly in Wally's direction. "I got it. I got it. I got it," he screams. The ball lands in the upper deck. "I got the cold beer right here."
Crunch time comes in the bottom of the eighth. There is no late-inning cutoff on beer sales at the Dome, but beermen have to decide by the end of the eighth whether to take out more brew. They are stuck with any left in their trays at the end of the game. Wally looks at the scoreboard. The game is tied at five. He splits a tray with Tom the Beerman and heads for Section 119.
Gary Gaetti leads off the Twins' half of the eighth by reaching on an error. The crowd roars. "Hey, rally time," yells Wally. "Get your rally beer here." A lady in a black jumpsuit reaches for a rally beer just as the Wave almost swamps Wally's tray. The Wave is one more occupational hazard for beermen.
Brunansky doubles in Gaetti. Roy Smalley singles in Brunansky. Wally sells his last beer. "I think we're done," he says. The Twins are still batting when Wally gets to the pay window. His score is 17½ trays, 350 beers, 50 more than either Jerry or Tom. His take-home will be $126, plus $21 in tips.
Somebody tells Wally that the Twins win 8-6. "Great!" says Wally. "Wanna go to the bar across the street? I'm about ready for a beer."