Thursday, April 9, 2015

“Draft or Lite?”: Waiting for Kenneth Sherwin

As Opening Day 2015 approaches, with fans more optimistic about the Sox and Cubs than in recent memory, I was tempted to repost my 2011 recollections about Opening Days ( but this year’s game will be something different.

The aforementioned post notes that returning to the ballpark means reacquainting oneself with people after a fall and winter’s absence. I mentioned my beer vendor Kenneth. Sadly, Kenneth Sherwin – or Kenny as many called him – will not be at Opening Day at either Chicago park, for he passed away suddenly in Miami Beach at age 61 on December 29. It shocked and saddened everybody who knew him.

Kenneth Sherwin, June 26, 2009
I started buying beers from Kenneth around 2006 after attending games regularly in my cousin’s seats in Section 126 on the first-base side. This was generally Kenneth’s territory. During the 2008 season, the Sox won every regular-season game for which I purchased those beers – probably 14 in succession – to the point that I chased Kenneth down by the right-field corner to buy a beer during Game 4 of the American League Division Series vs. Tampa Bay. Alas, that didn’t work, as the Sox were eliminated with a 6-4 loss. In the meantime, we would see each other around town; he lived three blocks from my mother’s apartment and played tennis at Midtown Athletic Club.

Kenneth was a character, to be sure, which most of us found out in more detail after his passing. The youngest of five children, he grew up on the North Side before attending the University of Miami. He decided against a career in law – his father was an attorney as are two brothers – and variously worked as a trader and as a high-end men’s clothing salesman. Kenneth became a vendor in 1981 and worked both ballparks, Chicago Stadium and United Center for the Bulls and Blackhawks, Soldier Field for the Bears and various concert venues. He was also a throwback to the days when many of the vendors were Jewish.

Kenneth with cousins Jim, Cathy and Bob, June 26, 2009
If I were attending a Sox game with friends, the response at the concession stand to “Do you want a beer?” was always “We’ll get them at our seats from my beer guy.” Depending how early we had arrived, we either saw Kenneth cutting across rows before the first pitch or going up and down the aisles. Even after all of the years, he’d usually ask “Draft or Lite?” He was good for a quip, asking our daughter, “Is he behaving himself?” or remarking when Janet was along, “I see you brought your girlfriend tonight.” His only complaints were about the weather – too cold – or the effect of small crowds on his bottom line.

Last season through my friend Rob Taman, I attended six games at Wrigley Field. Upon spotting me, Kenneth invariably asked, “What are you doing here?” Between the two stadiums, I must have seen him 20 times last season. In fact, as I headed to his funeral service, I told Janet, “How many people do I see 20 times a year?”

A cold night at Wrigley Field, May 24, 2011
In relating to his brother Bob what turned out to be our last conversation, he told me that Kenneth always spoke his mind. In fact, it’s why he no longer worked at the United Center. Some time back, Kenneth was servicing one of the suites and received a very small tip. He handed it back to the man and said, “Here, you must need this more than me.” The guy complained, and he was eventually fired. Kenneth manned a beer stand at the Bears games rather than vending in the seats; he pointed out that those vendors were non-union and thus didn’t follow the protocols of the other venues, including entering an aisle that a fellow vendor is servicing.

With winters now open, Kenneth bought a condominium in South Beach, four blocks from the ocean, so he could continue his tennis and cycling pursuits year-around. He was a regular at the annual tennis tournament at Key Biscayne, where he followed his favorites both on and off the court. It’s not surprising his Florida residence featured a framed jacket autographed by Roger Federer. It was his love of tennis and cycling and ability to haul beer cases some 150 times a year that made his sudden passing so much more baffling.
Opening Day will follow the usual routine: arrive early and roam the park taking photographs, order a brat by the stand at Section 126, take a seat (either 3 or 4) in Row 9 and wait for my beer guy. But like Godot and Lefty, Kenneth will not arrive. Back to our last conversation. After my friend Rick, a Cubs fan and good tipper, ordered our second round, Kenneth said so all could hear, “Bring this guy to the park more often.” I plan to this season; I only wish Kenneth would be there to accept the tips.

1 comment:

  1. The sentifment of your blog capture's how we all feel about Kenny's shocking death. He's been a fixture in the Chicago sports vending scene for thirty years. Joe Madden's reference to the new jumbotron as the "new reality". It applies well to Ken's absence, except we'll never get used to this new nealtiy. Baseball and Wrigley will not be the same. Period.