Red-hot tips from ballpark vendors

July 14, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Seasoned Oriole Park vendors keep track of the score by fan reaction, handle a sale in 30 seconds or less and brush off the spills that sometimes come from hustling up the steep stairs.

And they don't take any guff from loud-mouthed Yankees fans.

Dressed in the familiar orange T-shirts, the purveyors of ballpark snacks, sodas, beer and hot dogs shared these tricks of the trade yesterday at "Get Your Red Hots," a program at the Babe Ruth Museum. They spoke of dodging wayward balls while competing with each other for sales and commissions.

Katie Henneberry, 29, says she can sell 200 hot dogs a night, but she rarely has time to write "Orioles" on them in mustard like she did yesterday for the museum crowd. With a little coaxing, she revealed the secret for serving mouth-watering hot dogs: Bake them first, then keep them in steamy water.

The Howard County schools speech therapist said she and most co-workers have had unexpected encounters with baseballs.

"We are the only people, whose back is always to the game," said Jeff Lang, a biotech salesman in Gaithersburg by day who has worked as a stadium vendor for 13 years. "I remember hearing the crack of a bat and seeing everyone in my section duck. I just winced and waited to be hit."

About 25 fans showed up for the program at the museum, within shouting distance of Camden Yards.

Visitors were treated to a lunch of ballpark fare -- grilled hot dogs, peanuts and soda. But only after a quick lesson in the life of a ballpark vendor.

Tim Lovell, 39, once tripped and sent a case of empty cans in all directions. "The entire section clapped," he said.

Lovell had to get those empties back quickly and refill his cooler. For vendors, there is no salary. Their income is based on how much they can sell and how quickly.

"You are always thinking about the next section, how many people are there and if their cups are empty," said Lang. "We are all in competition with each other for sales. It is sort of amazing that we are all friends."

"Speak for yourself, "said Cheryl Hahn, 30 and married to fellow salesman J. Jay Hahn. "I am not even friends with my husband when we are selling."

"I have waited tables, knowing I wasn't going to get a tip," said Bob Yore, a high school teacher. "With this job, in less than a minute, you pass one beer down a row and you know you are getting 16 percent. You can't beat this for a part-time job."

Sales are most brisk when the Yankees come to town, the vendors said.

"If it's Saturday night against the Yankees, you want to be selling beer, not lemonade," said Lovell.

And, how do they handle those sometimes outspoken Yankee fans? "You give it right back to them," said Lang.

Leo and John DiMaio, Yankee fans and cousins from Rhode Island in town to catch a few Orioles games and visit the museum, had high praise for the ambience and staff at Oriole Park.

"You have a great park and great people here," said Leo DiMaio of his first experience at Camden Yards.

"Where are you sitting tonight?" Lovell asked, certain of a sale. "See me," yelled Yore. "My beer will be colder."

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