Mike Samuelson -- "Sammy"-- was holding court for an ever-shifting group of visitors when someone walked in with a bag of White Castle hamburgers.

"Whities!" Sammy yelled.

"Dying is great because people bring you food you shouldn't eat," he deadpanned.

The line is classic Sammy, an eccentric rabble rouser, neighborhood activist, provocateur, baseball fanatic, back-yard philosopher, professional heckler and seat-jumper.

Sammy, 57, was in his element, a room fit for a 10-year-old and decorated floor to ceiling with Twins gear: glasses, dolls, banners, posters and baseballs -- thousands of items he's collected over the last 20 years.

He's a legendary sports fanatic recognized by team owners and players, but Sammy wasn't interested in talking about baseball Thursday. Instead, he insisted on a spirited and often hilarious soliloquy about his work as a neighborhood activist, organizer and political volunteer.

For decades, Sammy has fought to make life better for people in some of the poorest areas of the Twin Cities, from Elliot Park to Powderhorn to Frogtown.

He raised money and helped orchestrate development of a swath of Lake Street, including the Avalon Theatre and bringing Kaplan's to Lake Street. He fought to save Met Stadium and protested against the Dome. He has helped the homeless for Lutheran Social Service and battled for disability rights.

Good friend Julian Loscalzo said Sammy has done the kind of work "where you are appreciated for a short time, then you're gone. Nobody puts up a plaque for you. He challenged the powers that be and it cost him jobs, but it came from a value system that Sammy lives by."

And he's done it while being a "professional patient," surviving three kidney transplants and, until now, a cancer that took his arm and shoulder a few years ago. But Sammy is "hanging up his spikes," as Loscalzo put it in a letter to friends. Sammy figures he has less than two months to live.

"The other day my wife [former St. Paul City Council member Kiki Sonnen, whom he met on a baseball stadium tour] started crying and said, 'What Christmas present do you get for a guy who's dying?' " Sammy said. "I told her, caramels. Who doesn't like caramels?"

Sammy recently called in to neighbor Tommy Mischke's radio show on WCCO. With the late-night audience listening, Sammy told his buddy he was dying. It was a brutally honest discussion about his prognosis and his life, and the conversation ended with both saying they loved each other.

"It was the first time it moved from the third person to first person," said Mischke. "He was a guy who realized that all the lives he's had, they're up. I thought it was interesting that he said one of the things he wanted was to drive his car one more time. He wanted to captain his own ship for another 20 minutes."

Mischke moved next door to Sammy and Kiki and "knew right away it was an eccentric crew." Their rather loud discussions about money "was the music that wafted through the neighborhood."

"He's the kind of guy where you can tire of him when you're with him," said Mischke. "But you miss him when he's not there."

After he lost his arm, Sammy often used it to comic effect. Friend Peter Schilling Jr. recalls Sammy chatting with a knitting group attending a Twins game. Finally, he asked: "Ladies, any knitting advice for a one-armed man?"

Friend John Manillo recalls Sammy sneaking the two of them into a VIP tent during the Twins playoffs, where they "rubbed shoulders with the Pohlads."

"He's got a big heart," Manillo said. "Everybody gets mad at him, but nobody hates him because he gets everybody equally mad at him."

Dave St. Peter, president of the Twins, has become a friend. "Nobody can get in on a free or discount ticket and work his way down to a prime seat behind home plate like Sammy," said St. Peter. "If there was a fan wing in Cooperstown, Sammy would be in on the first ballot. He is a special fan, but more important, he's a very special human being."

As for his heckling, "there are probably some people who love to sit near Sammy and listen to him, and probably a lot more who don't."

His taunts are often obscure references that played on politics, like the time he pretended to mix up former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird with player Gerald Laird and yelled: "War criminal!"

After the Twins said they were trading Delmon Young, Sammy waited for a quiet moment in the game and hollered: "Sure, traaade the black guy!"

Not long ago, Sammy asked his doctor if he should buy season tickets for next year. The answer was no. Sammy waited for a couple of days, then said, "What the hell."

He bought the tickets.

"Then I called Dave St. Peter and said, 'Dave, if I don't make it to April, can you give my wife a refund? It's the first time anyone asked him that."

Asked what she first saw in Sammy, Kiki replied, "I thought he was cute, and for a while I liked how he talked, but ..." she paused. "Another thing I liked is, because he faced death so many different times, he lived every day like it was his last."

"Not my last," Sammy corrected. "I enjoyed every day."

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702