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Charmed Life

Judged by His Beers

Sam Holden

By Charles Cohen | Posted 6/16/2004

The Orioles may think they sell status with Camden Yards skyboxes, but true O's fans know they've really earned their way into an exclusive club when they make it onto Fancy Clancy's short list.

If a fan is deemed worthy, Fancy Clancy (aka Clarence Haskett), one of the greatest beer vendors to ever work the Yards, will run that customer a tab.

A tab at a baseball game? Now that's good livin'.

Talk to some of the longtime customers in Haskett's territory, among the box seats on the first-base side of the field, and they'll likely gush about the honor of being handed a beer without having to dig in their pockets for a few crumpled dollars to pass down the row to the vendor.

Haskett's regulars talk about this perk as if they made the guest list of a sold-out show or snagged a table at a booked-up trendy restaurant. For some, the only thing that could make getting the Haskett treatment any better would be if Eddie Murray or Cal Ripken handed over the beer.

"It's like the greatest accomplishment in my life," says Gary Hollenbeck, an O's season ticket holder who tipped Haskett heavily for three years, hoping his favorite beer vendor would someday allow him to run a tab.

Haskett has been selling beers at local stadiums for 30 years and, since 1985, he's been ranked among the top 10 beer sellers at O's games, earning the distinction at both Oriole Park and Memorial Stadium. Currently the No. 2 seller at Camden Yards, he figures he earns about $100 per hour during a good game.

The secret to his success, Haskett says, is that he has fun on the job and makes people want to be part of the action.

"There's something different every game," he says. "I don't know what it is. The money is good, too, but it's fun."

Economically, Haskett doesn't need to work the stands himself anymore. The 45-year-old is a partner in the company All Pro Vending, which in 1998 won a contract to oversee all vending operations for Ravens games at M&T Bank Stadium. The contract made him a kingpin in the vending world, and he could have put his tray down for good. But Haskett, who also has a full-time job as a traffic engineer at the Maryland State Highway Administration, loves vending the same way an athlete loves his or her sport. So he can still be found working O's games and Terps football and basketball games--and the occasional national event. His company has scored a few big gigs over the years, including the Kentucky Derby, four Super Bowls, and an NBA All-Star Game.

Haskett doesn't approach his vending duties halfheartedly, either. He knows that fans, who've paid good money for their seats, love to see a hard-working stadium vendor. So he charges up and down the stands, lugging two and a half cases of beer topped with ice along with him. (You'd think that would be enough of a handicap for a curious reporter to keep up with him, but not a chance: Fancy Clancy is impossible to trail, and he left your faithful scribbler far behind, able only to follow with his eyes.)

He is an expert at working the crowd, swinging his cases over people's heads, sometimes performing his signature move, a backbend over the stadium's handrails while handing out bottles of beer. Then he flies up the steps bellowing, "Who's thirsty? Talk to me, talk to me! What's up, what's up? Beer man, hey, beer man, what's going on here?"

Haskett's got numerous techniques, yells, and tips, he says, some of which he learned from old-timers--one of which, keeping bills wrapped in his hands for change, saves him time and gives him more time for vending and being a showman. And his antics are a welcome distraction during the downtimes in a baseball game: He'll heckle a fan or challenge a customer to buy his buddies a round.

That's not to say that Haskett is never at a loss for words. During a recent O's vs. Yankees game, he was a bit out of sorts due to a rainstorm. He set his tray down in front of the stadium's men's room so he could serve the crowds of people rushing inside to take shelter from the storm.

"This is messing up my flow," he said, watching the scene. "This has no flow at all."

When the rain stopped, though, Haskett was back out in the stands in good form--even before the tarps were pulled off the field. He taunted some frat-boy types who caught his eye, challenging them to have a good time. He put his beer case down and bellowed, "What is going on here? My goodness, this is a baseball game. You're just sitting on your hands like you're at a tennis match or something."

His good mood is infectious, and it's a sales tactic that works for him: Despite the downpour, Haskett sold 19 cases of beer that night.

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Tags: booze

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