Longtime vendor, ushers, fans tap into special bond THE FAREWELL: FINAL SALES

October 07, 1991|By Tom Keyser

Dave Eley was the first customer who ever called Howard Hart by name.

"He asked me my name, and I told him Howard," Hart said. "He said, 'Well, Howard, my name's Dave. You're my beer man."

That was nine years ago, when Hart started hawking Buds at Memorial Stadium. Hart is now the top vendor, thanks in part to Eley, a fan from Newport News, Va., who since meeting Hart has not bought a beer from anybody else at the stadium.

Yesterday, as a token of the last day at Memorial Stadium and of relationships that had developed, Hart gave T-shirts to his favorite customers. Orange and white, the shirts displayed a drawing of the stadium and a caricature of Hart with a case of beer, and these words:

"Howard Was My Beer Man At Memorial Stadium To The Bitter End!"

Hart and his customers typify what happened at Memorial Stadium between many vendors and ushers and the fans in their sections. Game after game, year after year, they formed relationships that can only be described as familial.

"This morning I had tears in my eyes knowing this was the last day," said Jerry Siegel, an usher at Memorial Stadium since the first day in 1954. "This is my second home, I say. All these people here are like family."

Siegel, a pleasant-looking man with thick glasses, worked in lower Section 41, just on the first-base side of home plate, since about 1961, as near as he can figure. His partner all that time was Joe Wise.

The fans in their section referred to them fondly as Jerry and Joe. Jerry Siegel is 70. Joe Wise is 80.

They became fast friends, and they made friends with fans, such as Mary Louise and Edward Jones, from York, Pa., who sat in Section 41 from 1967 until yesterday.

Eight years ago they attended the 50th anniversary celebration of their usher, Joe Wise, and his wife, Lillian. When Wise's wife died two years ago, the Joneses, and many others in Section 41, comforted him.

"The doctor told me the best therapy he could give me was to go back to work as soon as I could," Wise said. "And he was right. The fans were just wonderful to me."

One fan interrupted Wise to stuff a $5 bill into his right hand.

"I used to be a season-ticket holder here," the fan said. "And you were a great usher."

Wise beamed and said: "See what I mean? They're all like that here. There are going to be a lot of tears shed today, I can tell you that right now."

Siegel and Wise plan to work as ushers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards next year, although they have no idea which section. Many fans told them that on their season-ticket forms they requested not only the same seats, but also the same ushers.

As the day wore on, Hart, the No. 1 beer vendor at the stadium, worked up a sweat, striding through the stands in lower sections along the right-field line. His voice became hoarse -- perhaps from yelling, perhaps from emotion.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the cutoff point for beer vendors, he brought his last two nearly empty cases down to Dave Eley's seat. Eley, a sales representative for a food distribution company, wore one of Hart's T-shirts. The past 11 years Eley and a couple of friends drove 400 miles round-trip from Virginia for Sunday Orioles games.

Hart plopped down the cases. Then he pulled one beer out of the case and poured it into a cup.

"This is last call," he screamed. "The last call ever for me at Memorial Stadium."

His fans stood and cheered as he lifted the cup to his lips. He threw back his head and gulped the beer until it was gone.

"The last beer at Memorial Stadium, and I sold it to me," he yelled.

He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. As fans continued to cheer, his eyes filled with tears.

"That's it. No more," he said.

Then the beer man picked up the empty cases, strode up the steps and disappeared down the tunnel of Section 33 at Memorial Stadium. It was the bitter end.

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