Monday marks the return of Twins baseball and an all-star at Target Field: Hot Dog Mark, who's been slinging franks to fans since 1980.
The 51-year-old Minnetonka man, whose real name is Mark Carlson, has been hawking hot dogs and more so long, he can say he's pitched his products at all three Twins ballparks.
"I got started because my older brother had gotten a job at Met Stadium," Carlson said. "He thought I should work there, too, and I thought it was a great idea."
In fact, he skipped school to work his first vending gig, the Twins' 1980 home opener.
He's been hooked ever since.
"The excitement of the fans, the excitement of being outdoors, there's nothing like it," said Carlson, who owns a window-cleaning business for his day job.
"I can be silly and I can just have fun, and I don't have to worry so much about the stresses of the world. I can just enjoy myself and be creative. I think that's a real great pleasure for me."
Sometimes when he's working the crowd, instead of just yelling out, "Hot dogs!" he'll instead shout, "Let's eat!" or "Mustard!"
"You gotta do little things to get people's attention," he said.
That includes modifying his uniform, swapping the basic red cap for a snazzy chef's hat, to better fit his cheerful personality.
For Carlson, each order is a performance. He'll whip out wrappers, swing his tongs around his fingers and squirt ketchup and mustard from overhead.
"I just try to have fun with what I'm doing. The people that are at the games, they want to see someone who is having fun at work," he said. "I view people as wanting to buy from the person who is having fun. ... I've always thought that life is too short to have a job you hate."
And he keeps coming back for more. He's worked at more than 30 venues around the country — at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, he's actually known as Mark the Beer Guy — and has been a vendor at three Super Bowls and one World Series (he says the Twins' 1987 championship was one of the most exciting events he's ever worked).
Carlson's antics and love of the gig have won him a fan following. They tweet at him during games to find out where he is (@hotdogmark or #findhotdogmark), and request not only hot dogs but photos — and that year's version of his baseball-style trading cards, complete with a list of career highlights. Here's his 1988 tidbit: Gave Jerry Garcia a bite of my club sandwich.
Perks like that aside, there is one drawback to being a hot dog vendor. At 6'7", Carlson usually kneels when serving customers so he doesn't block their view. But that has taken a toll on his knees and he says he'll need a replacement.
Still, he's not going to let that stop him anytime soon. Carlson is planning to work most Twins home games this season, usually haunting the space between third base and home plate ("best view in the stadium") and also plans to add U.S. Bank Stadium to his list when it opens later this year.
Hoping to take yourself out to a ballgame this year? Be sure to say hello.
"We're trying to be a friendly smile when you come in and a thank-you when you leave," he says.
5 things you didn't know about your Target Field vendor
1) It's a good workout
There are approximately 5,000 stairs (we're talking individual steps of a stairway) in the stands around Target Field, not counting various stairways leading to the ballpark or around the concourse.
That doesn't seem like much, unless you have to walk up and down those stairs, over and over and over. Then, it feels like miles of stairs — about 2.5 miles, to be exact, if each stair was the equivalent of a step. (Carlson says he usually loses about 20 pounds each baseball season from all that walking — but admits gaining it all back by about Christmas.)
Each vendor doesn't climb each and every stair during home games, but if they make it around the ballpark at least once, they're climbing at least a mile's worth of stairs each game, all while lugging around their gear.
Speaking of which...
2) Yes, it's heavy
All that beer, hot dogs, pop (soda to you non-Minnesotans) and ice really adds up. Vendors hawking drinks and hot dogs carry anywhere between 25 to 50 pounds of gear when they're roaming Target Field. Hot dog vendors, in particular, have to carry around heated bins loaded with franks, buns and condiments.
So go ahead, buy some peanuts and Cracker Jacks and help them take a load off — until they restock, at least.
3) The number of fans determines number of vendors
There's usually about one seat vendor for every 400 guests at Target Field.
So a sell-out crowd of about 38,000 would mean about 95 to 100 vendors walking around the ballpark.
4) The best assignments are beer, hot dogs — and hot chocolate?
Vendors select their products and location based on seniority or total number of games worked.
That means the more senior vendors typically pick beer and hot dogs because they're so popular. (The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates baseball fans will consume more than 19.4 million hot dogs during the 2016 Major League Baseball season.)
On days when the weather doesn't cooperate, the most experienced vendors know hot chocolate is, well, hot. So they'll peddle that during chilly games.
New vendors typically start on the popcorn and soda beats.
5) The more they sell, the more they make
Vendors are paid a percentage of their sales (minus the applicable sales tax). Vendors also make a minimum to ensure that less senior vendors don't fall below minimum wage because they may not move as much product.
On a good night, an experienced vendor can take home several hundred dollars.