This season, the main attraction in the Fenway Park bleachers has not been beachballs or the wave. It hasn’t been the pitchers in the bullpen and, more often than not, it certainly hasn’t been the game.
When the Red Sox are losing and Roger Clemens isn’t on the mound, what is it that makes the fans turn their heads, stand up and cheer?
Dave Kerpen, the self-made vending sensation, sprints up and down the aisles, case of Coke in hands and screams at the top of his lungs: “Coke is it!”
He sings. He dances. He signs autographs. And he sells lots of Coke.
“Working at Fenway Park is a dream come true for so many people,” the Boston University senior says. “It’s very weird because clearly right now if anything, I’m a pseudo-Boston celebrity. I’m not legitimate. I’m a vendor.”
He’s a vendor all right. One night last summer, he sold 360 cups of Coke. While working at the FleetCenter during the fall and winter, he quadrupled the sales of Crunch ’n Munch.
But Kerpen, an elementary education and psychology major, is also an entertainer well on his way to establishing legitimacy.
Not many vendors have been featured in the Boston Herald, interviewed on SportsCenter and approa-ched by a publicist. Not many vendors have signed up to 120 autographs in a given night.
Kerpen, 20, began his vending career at Fenway Park last June.
“I wanted to work there really badly,” Kerpen said. “I kept stopping by and asking if they had openings. They kept telling me no. Finally, they said yes.”
Since Fenway’s vendors are paid only on commission, Kerpen immediately had to pick his position: vendor or fan.
“When I first started, I wanted to enjoy the game; some vendors watch a lot of the game,” Kerpen said. “My first week I started, I had to make a decision whether I was going to sell or watch. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world because I’m such a big baseball fan. In the end, I figured this is a job, I have to make a living.”
So Kerpen took to the stands, and blocked out the game.
“Last year I was loud,” Kerpen said. “I was always loud, but I wasn’t quite attempting to be an entertainer at that point. I made pretty good money.”
Kerpen liked vending so much that he decided to apply for a job at the FleetCenter during basketball and hockey seasons. He figures his experience at Fenway helped him get the job.
While Fenway employs about 75 vendors per game, the FleetCenter averages only 14. Vendors get assigned the products they sell based on seniority.
Kerpen was usually left with Crunch ’n Munch, the least coveted product. Later it would become the secret to his success.
“It wasn’t going so well,” he admits. “I was doing my thing loud. I started kind of adding things here and there, yelling weird things, singing and dancing.”
Soon, lines like “Crunch ’n Munch rocks the world” and “Crunch ’n Munch is delicious and nutricious” won over the crowd.
“I kind of became the Crunch ’n Munch guy,” he said. “I guess publicity increased and they talked about me on the radio.”
Kerpen’s knew his fame was real when he was featured in the Boston Herald in January.
“People would come to the game expecting to see me and excited to see me,” Kerpen said.
The highlight of his vending career came about a month later, when Sports-Channel interviewed him and broadcast him nationally.
“That was great,” he said. “I finished off the season and I started again at Fenway very excited. I figured number one, I had this new perspective on how to sell, and number two, I knew that there would be recognition. It was totally true. I started off and everywhere I went I was ‘Crunch ’n Munch Guy.’”
Selling Cracker Jacks on cold nights and Coca-Cola on hot nights, Kerpen has had to adapt his act to Fenway.
“It was a little bit frustrating with Coke,” he explained. “I couldn’t dance around as much, so I came up with the balancing on the head. I tried it and it worked.”
So far, Kerpen can stack three cups of Coke on his head, but he says, “I’m so close to four I can feel it.”
Success hasn’t been all bliss for Kerpen, who says his voice suffers from all the screaming and his relationship with co-workers is less than amiable. Once, a jealous hot dog vendor threatened to hit him with his bin.
“Basically, I distract people … and perhaps there’s some jealousy,” Kerpen said. “I get called a retard, stupid, a fool, embarrassing.”
But not by the fans.
“When I feel it and I have a whole section going, when I’m balancing the Cokes on my head, it’s really kind of thrilling,” he said. “I think some of those old hot dog vendors really do believe I’m making a fool of myself. I’m confident enough to know I enjoy what I’m doing.
“The bottom line is it’s a performance,” says Kerpen. “I wouldn’t just walk down the street putting Cokes on my head. The task is to sell. I enjoy selling and I sell more by putting on a perfomance. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel people enjoyed it.”