"He looked like he was over 30," Walter McNeil said of his underage customer who was part of a sting. Seven other beer vendors were busted.
Iconic stadium vendor Wally the Beer Man and seven other beer hawkers were busted Thursday night at Target Field for allegedly selling to underage baseball fans.
All were suspended from their jobs and may be out for the season.
Walter McNeil, 76, has been an institution at Twin Cities sporting events for decades. He and the other vendors failed compliance checks by the Minneapolis licensing bureau, Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said. It was the first such sting at the new ballpark, he said.
Reached at home Friday, McNeil said that as he sold beers to two men, a third man standing next to them said, "I'll take a Michelob Golden Light."
"He looked just like the two guys standing there. He looked like he was over 30," McNeil said. "I ID everyone all day every day, for 40 years. ... It must have been a lapse."
Almost immediately afterward, he was called to a vending room, where an investigator pulled out a photo and said, "You served this guy."
His employer, Delaware North Sportservice, said the vendors have been suspended through the playoffs.
A fan of McNeil's promptly set up a Twitter account -- @free_wally -- declaring, "Free Wally! We must fight the power to get this good man back on the job! Follow and [re-tweet] if you want to join the Million Beer March!"
Someone also created a "Free Wally" Facebook page on Friday. Posters encouraged those attending Friday's game to make signs and wear T-shirts supporting McNeil. By first pitch Friday evening, the page had nearly 800 fans, some of whom encouraged people to contact Delaware North to try to save McNeil's job.
21 were checked
Delaware North, which provides food and beverage service at the stadium, issued a statement that said, in part, "Sportservice takes alcohol service very seriously and regrets that these violations occurred. We are extremely pro-active and diligent about our alcohol management."
The company says that each day it requires its vendors "to sign a sheet stating that they are aware of our alcohol policy, which requires that IDs are checked for individuals who appear 30 years old or less." The company will be cited and fined by the city, the statement said.
Minneapolis police Sgt. William Palmer said the eight vendors were among 21 checked. Cases against the eight will be presented to the Minneapolis city attorney's office for consideration of gross misdemeanor charges, a process that could take weeks.
A $500 fine
The City Council has directed that police, in addition to running compliance checks on bars, must check large venues such as Target Field and Target Center. Because the check found violations at more than seven points of sale, a $500 fine was assessed against Delaware North, the holder of Target Field's liquor license, Palmer said.
Target Field also must undergo another compliance check before the season ends.
Palmer said that Minneapolis police attempt to check annually the more than 500 establishments in the city that hold liquor licenses, using underage civilians supervised by police officers. The civilians have identification that shows they are underage, and they can lie only when asked whether they are working for police.
McNeil said he'd heard the sting was in progress before he made the illegal sale. "They'd nailed another guy before me." he said.
McNeil demurred when asked whether he believed there would be an outcry should he lose his job. "Some do it because they need the money, some do it because they want to," he said. "I'm doing OK. We'll be all right."