COMING OUT OF HIS SHELLTHE PEANUT MAN TRIES TO GO GLOBAL

In an era when sub-.500 baseball pitchers get million-dollar contracts, it makes sense that a peanut vendor has a publicist. In his own field, Rick "The Peanut Man" Kaminski--ace bag-tosser for the Seattle Mariners, Seahawks, and SuperSonics--is no borderline player. He's the franchise, a superstar. An MVP.

Last month, Full Count Communications, a Seattle-area public relations company, dispersed a press release proclaiming Kaminski's prowess in the world of concession workers. On March 20, the release said, the Peanut Man was awarded an MVP--Master of Vending Prowess--a new gimmick sponsored by the U.S. peanut industry. It also said (Warning: legume-related wordplay ahead) that he is "nuts about his work."

Kaminski flew from Tempe, where he had been working spring training games at Diablo Stadium, to the awards ceremony in West Palm Beach, Florida. There, each of the six MVP recipients from around the country was honored in a ceremony before a Grapefruit League game. (A seventh MVP winner, Abe Souzas of Oakland, died just days before the awards ceremony. A moment of silence was observed in his memory.)

Now back in Seattle awaiting the start of the Mariners' season, Kaminski says the MVP awards were professionally enriching. "It was great, from my standpoint, to meet people I've heard about but had never seen in action," he says. "To compare and contrast form and shots."

According to Full Count Communications, the shots that have brought their client such acclaim include the Fast Bag, the Sky Bag, the Curve Bag, the Long Bomb and the No-Look Behind The Back. Kaminski, age 47, adds a new shot every season.

Fans of the Mariners and Brewers have witnessed the Kaminski repertoire for the past six springs. Every year he and a carload of vendors tool down from Seattle, split the cost of a room in a Scottsdale suite hotel and work as many games as weather allows.

This year, weather was a problem. Because of an associate's medical emergency and too many rain-outs, Kaminski returned to Seattle earlier than usual. Spring training, normally a break-even deal for the MVP and his buddies, cost Kaminski $400 this year. "It's more fun when the weather is warm," he says.

Of course, gray skies were not the only gloom hanging over the Mariners' fans this spring. The ball club announced that it will leave Diablo Stadium after next year and is considering moving all spring training activities to Florida.

That, Kaminski says, would prove a "logistical nightmare" to him and anyone else who migrates with the team. "It's 3,000 miles instead of 800," he says, adding that he would miss Arizona, where he spends nonvending hours exploring Anasazi ruins. The Mariners' potential spring relocation, coupled with growing career ambitions, may prompt Kaminski to skip spring training altogether next year. Says Kaminski of his life's work. "It's a marginal living. We only make peanuts." (Note: Only one more pun to go.)

A sixth-year senior at the University of Washington, Kaminski was working on the final credits of a double major in psychology and something called "society and justice" when the call went out that the then-new Kingdome needed concession hawkers. Kaminski started in beer sales. He liked it.

"About the time we all discovered that the Mariners would not be contending--that was about May--the crowd level dropped," he says, adding that the demand for beer vendors also eased. He switched to peanuts.

Kaminski quickly became impatient with the standard peanut-bag delivery ritual (1:Vendor hands bag to person in aisle seat. 2:Bag gets passed fan-to-fan down the row. 3:Bag recipient passes payment fan-to-fan down the row toward vendor. 4:Vendor passes change fan-to-fan back down the row.) and started winging bags at people in hopes of decreasing his time-spent-per-sale quotient. The special effect caught on. Kaminski soon became a favorite of fans and Seattle TV news crews.

The Peanut Man's horizons have been steadily expanding ever since. A couple of years ago he became news anchor of The Kingdome Report, a daily update of dome activities broadcast by ten radio stations around the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A beachhead in broadcasting. Three-sport renown in a major metropolitan area. National recognition. Most vendors would settle for a small piece of the Peanut Man's action. Kaminski and his handlers want more.

"We're trying to get him out of vending and into the personality end of the business," says Candace Oehler of Full Count Communications. "He does an act. Selling peanuts is just his vehicle."

Kaminski, who claims that his association with Oehler began when she approached him in a bar after a ball game and offered to mass-market him for free, says he'd like to take his act on the road. Kaminski foresees special promotions at minor league games--Peanut Man Nights--and even a tour of Japanese baseball parks.

"By and large, baseball people put you in this box called `vendor,'" he says. "In a sense, you are a foot above a cockroach in the Texas League. I'm trying to move this out of that area and into the area of entertainment."

In the area of major league baseball, Kaminski's goal is to break out of the Kingdome and play the Wrigleys, the Sheas, the Fenways.

"I want to be the San Diego Chicken of peanuts," he says. "It'll be just nuts, I promise."

"He does an act. Selling peanuts is just his vehicle.

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