For beer vendors, Cardinals playoff run means extra paydays

had yet to open when Aaron Sims ducked inside a secure locker room beneath Busch Stadium to put on his uniform for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

About an hour before the first pitch, Sims emerged into the stadium proper, announcing his presence in a baritone destined to resound through the lower left field box seats until last call — aka the seventh inning.

"The REAL BEER MAN IS HERE. Now, who wants ONE?"
For Cardinal Nation, the 2011 playoffs bring civic pride, unbridled joy and the bizarre embrace of a bushy-tailed rodent.
For the beer vendors stalking the aisles at Busch, the team's run through the National League division and championship series has already translated into five bonus paychecks with the possibility — should the Cardinals move to the World Series — of even more.

"We love those extra paydays," enthused Ray Wilkins, wrapping up his 20th year hawking Anheuser-Busch products at the stadium bearing the same name.

The vendors politely decline to say exactly how much extra cash can be gleaned from better-guzzling playoff fans, as opposed to the regulars who show up on any old weeknight.
But they weren't shy in complaining that the cost of a Bud or Bud Light — $8 for the first 83 home games of the season — had jumped to $8.75 for the National League Championship Series. In beer vendor economics, the price hike portended a 75-cent reduction in the $2 tip that normally flows from a $10 bill.

Sims, a vendor for 25 years, maintains that the compensation is secondary.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I still make money at this. But it's the hugs, the thank you notes and the birthday cards (from regular customers) that makes it worthwhile."

Unlike the players who earn their way to The Show from the lowly minor leagues, the superstars of beer vending start at the top — in the nosebleed sections — and work their way to the bottom.
The payoff for seniority and better than average beer-selling statistics is a standing assignment in the box seats — all the better to cultivate the same season ticket-holders year after year.
Terry Fritz and his family have long occupied seats in Sims' corner of the park — the one also patrolled by Cardinals' left fielder Matt Holliday.

The Fritzes and Simses have grown so close that the vendor has become part of a family tradition of bringing the home team luck by snacking on red licorice each time St. Louis comes to bat.

"He's one of the top two beer vendors in the stadium," said Fritz, owner of the Fritz's Frozen Custard chain.

No one who has observed Sims and the other vendors hoist trays of beer, ice and water topping 40 pounds up and down unforgiving concrete steps in the brutal heat of a St. Louis summer afternoon can dispute that the vending corps earns every penny.
With the rare exception of vendors paid the minimum wage because they fail to meet sales benchmarks, the earnings come entirely from commissions.

"It's like insurance," explains vendor Darrell Dixon. "If you don't work, you don't get paid."
The tightly controlled system begins with the stadium concessionaire, St. Louis SportsService Inc., fronting each vendor a case of beer before the game. The vendors then use the proceeds from the first case to purchase a second case. With a software program tracking inventory, the process repeats itself for seven innings.
In the eighth, SportsService and the vendors settle up.

"Every beer is accounted for," said SportsService human resources manager Shirley Kramer. "You have to come out even."

Like the tipping habits of playoff fans, the amount of money a vendor can earn over 81 regular home dates seems to be a closely held secret.
But it's telling that stadium duties are a second job for many of the 750 concession employees (150 selling beer) on the SportsService payroll.

Sims, for instance, is a full-time administrator with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It's tough moonlighting at a second job that requires his presence at a certain number of weekday afternoon games and a playoff schedule dictated by the television networks. The secret is flexibility, an understanding supervisor and a willingness to spend vacation time peddling 8-buck beers.

A lot of baseball history has unfolded during Sims' tenure at two Busch Stadiums over the past quarter century.
Unfortunately, most of those moments — two World Series, an All-Star Game and Mark McGwire's home run chase — took place while Sims had his back to the field.
"If you're doing your job, you don't see the game unless the crowd goes crazy," says Dixon.
"It's nonstop," agrees Selong Smith. "Until Pujols comes up. Then, everything stops."
Smith, 65, started selling beer to Cardinals fans at the first Busch stadium, the former Sportsman's Park.
Beer Brewing
It was 1964, the year St. Louis overtook the Philadelphia Phillies in the last week of the season en route to its seventh World Series title.
Mike Shannon played right field, Curt Flood was in center and, as best Smith can recall, a bottle of stadium beer set the paying customers back 90 cents.
Smith's memories include a love-hate relationship with Bob Gibson.
As a baseball fan, Smith loved the Hall-of-Famer. As a vendor, he hated the way the righthanded Gibson cut into his profits.

"He always (threw complete games) in an hour and 45 minutes," Smith complained.
A weary Aaron Sims eased two cases of Bud and Bud Light onto a concrete landing in the left field corner midway through Wednesday night's game.
Weathered by five innings of full-throated volume, the Real Beer Man's baritone had lost some of its edge.
Brewing equipment
"I'm beat, man," Sims admitted.
Still, there was no letting up.
Two innings of beer sales remained; the Fritzes had broken out the red licorice; the Cardinals led 4-3 — and with that score came the promise of extra paydays for Aaron Sims come the third and fourth weeks of October.