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Struck Strikes Out: Mark the Beer Guy

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The original Beer Vest
For many Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings fans, Mark the Beer Guy is one noticeable, cool cat - especially on really hot game days when a cold brewski soothes the palate.

The fact that self-named Mark the Beer Guy also entertains, titillates, and livens up the MetroDome crowds with his theatrics, sense of humor, and incomparable pouring skills only adds to the experience.

Mark the Beer Guy also has deep Cherokee connections; remains a favorite beer vendor for Twins, Vikings, and, on occasion, Chicago Cubs fans; spends his winters in Scottsdale, Arizona where he works his vending skills for several Major League Baseball teams' spring training games; and will be working this year's Super Bowl in Phoenix.

Mark at Wrigley Field
Yes, Mark Carlson, this gun-for-hire beer man, who's father John "Jack" Carlson was born and graduated high school here, has perfected his craft, created his own public image, and now leads an exciting, hard-working life as a nationally-acclaimed professional beer vendor with his own following and his own snappy baseball card souvenirs.

I met Mark the Beer Man a few weeks ago in Carey's Cafe in downtown Cherokee where he was dining with his cousin, Tim Carlson of Cherokee. Mark comes to his late father's home town twice a year to hunt pheasant and deer with his cousins - the Carlson boys and their sons. Mark's dad was a brother to the late Don "Butch" Carlson.

Born in Minneapolis in 1965, Mark grew up in Bloomington where, at age 15, he began skipping school to work as a vendor alongside older brother Steve for the Twins in the old Metropolitan Stadium. They hawked hot dogs, soda pop, peanuts, candies, and ice cream treats. In his first gig, he skipped school to work the Twins opening game in 1980, and has been hooked every since.

"There's no way I could live my lifestyle just selling beer," said Mark during an interview in my office. "So, I started up my own residential window cleaning business in the Minneapolis area and it has really taken off."

He and his wife, Denise, now spend January, February, and March in Scottsdale where he cleans windows in upscale neighborhoods until game time. He works about 30 games in 28 days each March for MLB teams Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Oakland As, and Milwaukee Brewers each spring training.

Mark the Beer Guy is an intimidating man, standing 6-7 and weighing 280 pounds. And he can pour beers behind his back and head as fast as he can in front. And he's a dead-eye at throwing peanuts when he vends them along with his beer.

"I can be a bit rowdy," laughs the gentle giant. "I've been doing it long enough that I know how far I can go with fans. The idea is to sell more beer and I can sell more beer than anybody out there."

Carlson laughed as he told of an experience working a game with another "hot-shot" vendor who thought he was pretty good and who was challenging Mark for the fans' attention.

The guy hollered out "Cold Beer here" and Mark started saying "Colder Beer here." So the guy yells "Coldest Beer here." That's when Mark brought out his A Game.

"Frozen beer on a stick here! And chicken wings!" yelled Mark. Then, when a fan thinking he was being funny actually ordered the chicken wings he knew Mark did not have, Mark immediately said, "Buffalo, Ranch, or regular BBQ?"

The fans cracked up, ordered more beer from Mark, and the other vendor walked away to another section with his tail between his legs.

As a huge lineman, Mark played football in high school and one year in college before an eye injury cut short his career, led him to drop out of college, serve four years in the U.S. Marines, and then pursue his love of vending.

He also sells beer for the Minnesota Wild professional hockey team, and has worked various NASCAR events for the past several years.

Because of the loud noise at NASCAR races, Mark contrived a tricky clip and pin device that enables him to attach the actual bottles or cans of his beer varieties to his shirt to create a beer vest. That way, the fans can readily see what he has to offer and simply point out their choice instead of trying to shout to be heard over the roar of the engines and the buzz of the crowd.

"I outsell them all at NASCAR races," said the proud Minnesotan who insists on calling Cherokee "home" even though he never lived here. "For some reason, this is home. Cherokee's always been home. It's a special feeling I can't describe," said Mark, who shares a tight bond with his Cherokee cousins.

Mark also has vended for heavyweight boxing championship bouts, the Stanley Cup Finals, MLB World Series, Super Bowls XXX1 and XXXV1 in New Orleans, the NHL All-Star game, and various NFL games.

It's pouring out back!
His name is well known throughout the industry and when there are openings at lucrative national sports events, Mark makes the call and usually lands the job because they know he will entertain, bring his own fan base, and sell the heck out of beer. On a good day, Mark will make $300 or more, and have a ton of fun and exercise, while his concessionaire happily gleans the lion's share. Vendors work on straight commission and happily accept tips. Of course the big events like Super Bowls pay more because of the exorbitant prices charged.

Contrary to belief, beer vendors are not assigned special sections or parameters. They are, however, assigned stations from which they reload their order, so it behooves them to stay near their "commissary." Because of his long strides and hustle, Mark cuts a wide swath while clearing several steps at a time with his heavy case of 16-ounce beers that look small in his huge hands and arms.

When working spring training in Arizona each March, Mark celebrates St. Patrick's Day in style, replete in various leprechaun costumes and beads, serving green beer to all his customers by adding a few drops of food coloring to each and every glass.

"I can't serve it fast enough on a warm St. Patty's Day," said Mark, who's quite a sight as a 6-7, 280-pound leprechaun.

Mark has written a poem that is on all his baseball cards he hands out to every one who buys a beer from him. It reads:

"When the Beer Guy is near, let's make it clear,

If your I.D. is ready, he'll serve you a beer.

If you're a dude or a dame, it's all the same.

Mark the Beer Guy's his name, and your thirst he will tame."

Folks, the next time you attend a Twins, or Vikings, or Cubs game - or perhaps a Super Bowl - and you happen to see Mark the Beer Guy, tell him you're from Cherokee.

For sure, you'll make his day just as he will make yours.

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