A night at the ballpark with Opera Man
If the Phantom of the Opera wanted to interest you in a Coors Light, it might sound like this.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-CCCCCCCCEEEEEEEEE COLDDDDD BEEER.
The words cut through the air at Coors Field like one of Jon Gray’s fastballs. A man carrying a black plastic bin filled to the brim with beer, soda and water walks up the stairs of section 143. A satchel bearing the Cracker Jack logo hangs at his side.
His voice is deep and distinct, like one you’d hear during “Phantom of the Opera,” if it were being used to sell booze. He holds the notes for what seems like an impossible duration of time.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-CCCCCCCCEEEEEEEEE COLDDDDD BEEER, he sings again.
A woman in a gray T-shirt flags him down. She and a friend order two Coors Lights. The man squats down, digs deep into the ice chest and retrieves the drinks. He pops the tops with an opener attached to a keychain, hands the beers to the women and collects the money.
ENNNNNNNNNNNN-JJJJOOYYYY, the vendor belts out as he walks off to make his next sale.
For the last 23 years, Opera Man has walked up and down the aisles at Rockies games hawking different beverages and snacks. He started when the team was still at Mile High Stadium, vending in the sections up top. Now he’s a mainstay on the lower sections along the third-base line
By day, Opera Man goes by Howard Greer. Howard Greer works for the Department of Defense, has since 1994. His job is serious, and the hours are long. He’s usually in by 7 a.m. and out by 5 p.m. But this is not daytime. This is 6:45 p.m. on a picture-perfect Friday night, and the Rockies are playing. So Howard Greer is not Howard Greer. He’s Opera Man.
HEYYYYYY, HEYYYYY, HEYYYYYY, GET A COOOOOORS TODAY
Opera Man’s performance never seems to stop. He’s constantly smiling, singing, squatting, passing, collecting. He turns 64 years old later this month. He moves around like a man who’s 32.
The work isn’t easy. On the busiest days, his cooler can weigh up to 60 pounds. He’s three and a half months out from a total hip replacement. You’d never know by watching him work.
“I always, always have 10 to 15 pounds of ice in here,” he says during a break in the action. “Because?” he asks with eyebrows arched.
“Cold beer?” I say.
“Extremely cold,” he says. “The ice is deep, but I’ll go in for you. And the fans appreciate that.”
It’s time to restock after the first inning is over. He walks to the storage room on the outskirts of the building. PBR, Coors Light, Coors heavy, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, grapefruit Summer Shandy, Sprite, Coke, water. Opera Man makes sure he’s got enough of each and heads back out.
“Good to see you, buddy,” an enormous man wearing a cowboy hat says as he passes Opera Man on the concourse.
“Good to see you too,” Opera Man says.
Greer first discovered he loved to sing as a boy. He joined the choir and tried out for school plays. His sixth-grade classmates named him “Best Actor” for his portrayal of a Mexican bandit named Pablo.
Doing the play helped Greer realize he loved performing. There was something about making other people happy through acting or singing that made him happy.
Greer also loved baseball. He played at his south suburban Chicago high school. He grew up a White Sox fan. His favorite player was Hoyt Wilhelm, a knuckleballer who pitched until he was 49 years old. Ernie Banks, Whitey Herzog, Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith were some of his other favorites.
His favorite player on this Rockies team is Nolan Arenado. He likes the way Arenado competes.
“Similar to Charlie Hustle,” he says.
Vending allows Opera Man to combine two of his biggest passions. Years ago, he used to work all 81 home games. These days, he estimates he does about 70. Opera Man also does Nuggets and Avalanche games, roughly 50 combined per year .
Going into character gives Greer a chance to escape from the mundanity of real life. He works 55-65 hours a week at his day job. There’s not much room for creativity or expression there.
“The fun is here,” he says.
At Coors Field, his expression is not only encouraged, it is beloved.
Someone seems to stop him just to chat every five minutes. Little kids point and laugh when he belts out his notes. As he’s squatting down to make a sale in the fourth inning, a heavily tattooed woman wearing a tank top stops as she walks by to pat him on the back and wave hello.
Opera Man is so popular that Aramark Co., the stadium’s vending contractor, has twice sent him on all-expense paid trips to the All-Star Game to show off his talents. He went to Anaheim in 2010 and New York City in 2013.
Opera Man remembers landing on a Sunday when he went to New York. When he arrived, he discovered that the New York Daily News had published a story headlined, “Opera Man Invades Citi Field.”
“Monday afternoon when I got there for the Home Run Derby, I was running and saying hello,” he recalls. “The people said, ‘Get out of here, we already know who you are.’”
Things start to slow down in the bottom of the sixth. Opera Man isn’t moving up and down the staircases along the third-base line like he did at the beginning of the game. He makes his last sale in the top of the seventh. Beer sales aren’t allowed after the half-inning.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” plays over the loudspeakers as he trudges up the steps for the final time that evening. He heads toward the restock room one last time. He unpacks his cooler, placing the leftover beer in a beat-up plastic crate, and empties his knapsack of Cracker Jacks and peanuts.
He’s going to sleep in tomorrow morning, he says. Maybe until 8 a.m. He’s up by 5 a.m. most days.
“I look forward to 2018 when I only have to do this.” That’s when he plans to retire from his job with the Department of Defense, where he’s worked since 1985.
It was a good night, considering how much other stuff was going on. Colorado-Colorado State played football at Mile High. Phish played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. He estimates he sold 60 beers. He won’t say how much money that netted him.
“You make a very generous commission,” he says. “If I tell you more than that, guys will not only kill you, they’ll kill me also.”
He counts up the stack of bills in his packet and hands it over to a woman working a cash register. Opera Man’s night is over. He walks over to an electronic screen on the other side of the hallway and punches out.
It’s time to go home now as Howard Greer. He won’t be out of character for long. The Rockies play the Diamondbacks again Saturday night, and Opera Man is vending.
Sports reporter Christian Clark can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_ClarkChristian.
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