At a typical home game for the Washington Nationals, D.C.'s Major League Baseball team, about 60 vendors in neon yellow shirts walk up and down the aisles selling food and drink. The most popular concession by far is beer, and Christy Colt is great at selling it.
"Bud, Bud Light, Stella, Shock Top, IPA!" That's her refrain, and she sticks to it. No shticks, no silly voices, no sleights of hand.
The 35-year-old from Warsaw, Ind., is the only female vendor at Nationals Park who works every home game. There are a handful of other women who do the job, but they only work as fill-ins or for special events. She works the lower levels, which are reserved for the more senior vendors. Section 129 is her favorite: "Nicest fans in baseball," she says.
She's average height, with dirty blond hair that she keeps tucked in a bun under a red Nationals cap. Her socks consistently don't match. She has a crooked smile that comes out whenever she sees someone she knows, which is often.
"I'll sit and talk with somebody for five minutes and not worry that I'm missing sales," she says. "It makes it fun for me to come to work. I feel like I'm seeing my friends."
Colt has slung beer at nearly every home game since the ballpark opened in 2008. When she's not vending, she teaches history to middle and high school students at a charter school in Washington, D.C.
Female beer vendors are an uncommon sight at Major League Baseball games. In Japan, where baseball is also wildly popular, most beer sellers are young women. But here in the U.S., the "beer guy" is king.
"It is definitely a very physical job," says Jeff Scheidhauer, the vice president of JET Services, which has a contract to manage vending for the Nationals, Capitals, and other Washington-area teams. Jet's online vendor application states that a successful applicant needs to be "physically capable to walk up and down aisles in a stadium while carrying a load (hot dogs, lemonade, beer etc) of up to 40 pounds."
During a busy game, Colt said she can carry up to 60 pounds of beer and ice at a time.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been told, 'Oh, it's too heavy for you, like, how do you carry it? You're a girl, doesn't it hurt your back or your shoulder?"
Yes, it's hard, she says. But she can handle it. She runs half-marathons in the off-season to stay in shape.
According to Scheidhauer, the job has a high attrition rate for both sexes due to the demanding schedule and the physical challenges. New vendors start out selling non-alcoholic concessions on the stadium's higher tiers — the steeper steps make it a tougher place to work. Once their sales hit a certain threshold, they can advance to selling beer.
Vendors routinely bring in between $150-$300 a game from commission, performance bonuses, and tips. Colt uses her earnings to go on international trips and buy tickets to Broadway musicals. She's seen her favorite show, Wicked, close to a dozen times.
Colt came to Scheidhauer with prior experience — she got into the beer slinging game in college — and he calls what she does "an art form."
It certainly can take artistry to navigate the stands on a humid summer day, particularly when fans start to get drunk. Colt said she's been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments from drunk fans, which she reported to her supervisor, who then confronted the fans on her behalf.
While she felt supported by him and the rest of her team, she thinks other women might shy away from the job in order to avoid that kind of drunken fan behavior.
But for the most part, the fans are the reason she loves the work.
Before a recent game, a season ticket holder named Biff Henley came by to say hello. He gushed over Colt like a proud grandfather.
"She is just absolutely wonderful — great teacher, great human being," he said. "We encourage people to buy from her."
Colt cracked a crooked smile and waved goodbye to Henley. Then, she hoisted her bin over her shoulder and started down the steps.
"Bud, Bud Light, Stella, Shock Top, IPA!"
DON GONYEA, HOST:
One of the hallmarks of a baseball game is the sound of vendors hawking cold beers in the ballpark. But the voices you'll hear are mostly men's.
At Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., there's only one female beer vendor who works every game. As Mikaela Lefrak from our member station WAMU reports, she's also one of the best they have.
MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: At a typical Washington Nationals home game, around 60 vendors in neon-yellow shirts walk up and down the aisles selling food and drink. The most popular, by far, is beer. And Christy Colt is great at selling it.
CHRISTY COLT: Bud Light, Stella, Shock Top, IPA.
LEFRAK: She works in the lower-level sections along the first base line. She stops every few steps to chat with her regulars and crack open a few beers.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAN CRACKING)
LEFRAK: Colt is 35 with dirty-blonde hair that she keeps tucked in a bun underneath a Nats cap. She's surprisingly soft-spoken for someone whose job it is to get attention.
COLT: I guess I don't really like the spotlight on me, but I kind of need it when I'm doing this.
LEFRAK: Colt carries around 60 pounds of beer and ice in her blue bin. In a quiet room away from the stands, she tells me she gets lots of questions about it that her male colleagues don't.
COLT: I can't tell you how many times I've been told, like, oh, it's too heavy for you. Like, how do you carry it? You're a girl. Like, doesn't it hurt your back or your shoulder? And isn't that heavy?
LEFRAK: It is, but she can handle it. She's average height but fit, and she's been doing this job for 10 years now. But to some people, she still stands out.
COLT: People take pictures of me all the time at games. Like, oh, I remember seeing a girl beer vendor.
JEFF SCHEIDHAUER: It is definitely a very physical job.
LEFRAK: That's Jeff Scheidhauer, the operations director for the company that manages the ballpark's vendors. He says that they don't get a lot of female applicants. In Japan, where baseball is also wildly popular, almost all beer vendors are women. But here in the U.S., it's a traditionally male role. Scheidhauer says he's not sure why. To him, it's a challenge no matter what gender you are.
SCHEIDHAUER: So not many men and women vendors latch on because it is pretty tough work.
LEFRAK: Drunk fans are part of the job. Colt thinks that keeps some women away.
SCHEIDHAUER: When you mix alcohol and physical labor - I don't know - I don't know how to say it - sometimes, there's inappropriate comments.
LEFRAK: When that happens, she tells her supervisor. She says he's confronted drunk fans for her before. But for the most part, she says, the fans are great. She's become good friends with a lot of season ticket holders, like Biff Henley. He finds her at the top of his section before the game gets underway to say hi.
BIFF HENLEY: She is just absolutely wonderful - great human being. We encourage people to buy from her (laughter).
COLT: I do know a lot of people.
LEFRAK: Colt waves goodbye to Henley and starts making her way down the steps right behind the Nationals' dugout.
COLT: Bud Light, Stella, Shock Top, IPA.
LEFRAK: When she's not hawking beer, she teaches middle and high school history at a charter school. She saves up her vending money to travel and go see musicals. Vendors can bring in a couple hundred dollars a game.
COLT: And it's probably more than I would make, like, tutoring or any other part-time jobs.
LEFRAK: Colt grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, and she's grown to love the Nationals, too. So talking baseball with her customers - that's a pitch that works.
For NPR News, I'm Mikaela Lefrak in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.