It was one of my favorite summer jobs.
The journey to Tiger Stadium actually began when my older brother, Art, heard Detroit Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell mention on his broadcast that the concession company providing food services at Tiger Stadium was in need of vendors.
Art had just been laid off from his construction job and was looking for temporary work until he got called back to work. Art took the Fort Street bus from Southgate to Detroit. He got the job.
Art then told me that the food service officials were still in need of vendors. I hopped on the bus with Art and applied for the job. I was hired. All I had to do was to obtain a food-handling card.
After school was out for the summer, I headed for Tiger Stadium for my new job. Man, I thought: How lucky could I get? Not only was I going to be working at Major League Baseball games, I’d be watching many great players perform.
Vendors arrived at the stadium the same time as the players. But we didn’t enter through the same gate as the players. Still, it was fun to watch the players arrive in their expensive automobiles.
I learned that some of the vendors had interesting backgrounds. For example, I remember talking to one guy who was a Detroit schoolteacher. He told me his teacher’s pay wasn’t enough to care for his family and needed the extra income he received being a vendor.
Then there was Gus, the dancing hot dog man. Gus would often entertain fans during a lull in the action with his version of the "Twist." But Gus took his job seriously and worked very hard at it.
The practice was to give vendors their assignments based on seniority. That meant the workers who had been there the longest would get the choice assignments — peddling hot dogs and Coca-Cola. The assignments would continue until it was my turn — the last vendor on the list.
I was assigned to sell Home Juice — orange and grape juices. The rumor was that Home Juice was a product being pushed by the “Mob.” That made sense to me because the juices were terrible. Who would want to buy orange juice instead of Coca-Cola on a hot night?
Then, on a hot June night, my luck would change.
I was assigned to sell Home Juice in the right field sections. It just so happened that it was my father’s annual company outing to a baseball game at Tiger Stadium. They were sitting in the right field bleachers.
I knew he was going to the game, but I didn’t know where he was sitting. It was just a coincidence that I was assigned to his section.
My father spotted me and quickly spread the word to about 200 of his co-workers that I was selling in their section. Needless to say, I sold lots of orange juice that night.
My boss was impressed with my performance. He told me no one had sold that much orange juice at a Tigers game so far that season.
At the next game, I received a promotion. My boss circumvented the seniority system and had me selling peanuts and popcorn. I didn’t tell him about my good fortune of selling in the same section as my father’s co-workers. Never again did I have to sell Home Juice.
While I didn’t get rich that summer, I did make enough money to buy my own school clothes and cover some of my other expenses for my senior year.
More importantly, I came away with some fond memories. I got to see such legends as Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito perform every day.
After I got my game assignment, I would find an empty seat and watch the Tigers take batting practice. I remember Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees launch ball after ball into the right field seats during batting practice.
After the baseball season ended, I was asked to work at Detroit Lions games. I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I had the good fortunate to be at one of the greatest football games ever played at Tiger Stadium.
The Detroit Lions were playing the undefeated Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions upset the Packers, 26-14. The Lions sacked Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr 10 times that day.
I sold hot chocolate on that cold day, but I didn’t make much money. I was too engrossed in watching the game.
After graduating from high school, I joined the Navy, ending my career as a vendor. But the memories of my summer at Tiger Stadium are forever etched in my memory.