"Cotton candy heeeeeeeere!"
Pittsburgh sports fans long heard those shrill cries from Kenny Geidel, the popular vendor from Wilkinsburg who relentlessly and colorfully peddled his wares for Pirates, Penguins and Steelers games since first getting a job at Three Rivers Stadium in 1985.
Mr. Geidel died Monday at age 64 due to complications from an intestinal infection. He worked his final game Sunday at PNC Park.
"When I was much younger, my oldest brother would take me to Three Rivers for Pirates games, and one of my first priorities was to find the 'Coke here guy.' It never took long," said Justin Hunter, a West Virginia native who now lives in Asheville, N.C. "To me, hearing Mr. Geidel's voice at a baseball game was as natural as hearing the crack of the bat."
Mr. Geidel's style was inimitable: He would move briskly through the aisles, whether pounding the metal steps of Three Rivers' box seats or trudging up the steep concrete of the Civic Arena, and his glass-cracking cry -- accompanied by a trademark bobbing of the head -- would penetrate whichever section he was patrolling. Even in heavy rain, Mr. Geidel would continue working.
"For Kenny, it was all about the job," said Shannon Christie, a nine-year concessions worker at PNC Park. "He would yell out to me, 'Hey, hey!' every time he passed. He just did it Sunday. But he never stopped. There was no talking to him unless you were buying his lemonade."
"Ken was an exemplary employee who was with us for a long time," said Michael McDonald, district manager for Aramark vending services. "He certainly was one of the characters that added to the sporting event experience and had quite a following among the Pittsburgh fan base. He will be missed."
To different fans, Mr. Geidel had different nicknames, none of them official. For fans who go back to the Three Rivers era, he was the "Coke-here guy." To hockey fans, he was "Cotton Candy Man." To the PNC Park generation of baseball fans, he was "Lemonade Man." Mr. Geidel's popularity extended to the online world, where he had a following on Facebook and Twitter, and several YouTube videos had been created in his honor even before some of the tributes that popped up Tuesday.
The Pirates observed Mr. Geidel with a moment of silence before their game Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was preceded by his photo being displayed on the scoreboard, with a recording of his lemonade cry.
"We in the Pirates' family are saddened," team owner Bob Nutting said in a statement. "While all of us fans will always remember Kenny's famous vending calls while roaming the stands, he was also a dedicated family man. He will be sorely missed."
Pitcher Paul Maholm said he often would try to pick Mr. Geidel's voice out of the crowd.
"My first year, I found him early on," Mr. Maholm said. "And every game since then, I'd find him. You could see how hard he worked and how much he enjoyed his job. Anybody who went to our games or to see the Steelers or Penguins knew who he was, and everybody loved him. It's sad to think he's not going to be here anymore."
The Penguins also issued a statement in honor of "Cotton Candy Man."
"Ken provided great service to our fans and was part of the fabric of a Penguins game," team president David Morehouse said. "The history of Pittsburgh sports is unique because it includes not just great players and coaches but also memorable vendors and ushers. Ken was part of that history."
The family did not comment, but witnesses at PNC Park said Mr. Geidel fell ill during the Sunday game and had to be escorted to the first-aid room, then to a hospital.
Mr. Geidel is survived by his wife, Janice Collins Geidel; four children, Denise M. Geidel, Kenneth D. Geidel Jr., Amy H. Geidel and Joshua D. Geidel, all of Wilkinsburg; three grandchildren; a brother, Paul Geidel Sr. of Penn Hills; and two sisters, Janice Dorney of Munhall and Kathleen Dunn of Los Angeles.
Viewing will be today from 6 to 8 p.m. at Thomas L. Nied Funeral Home in Swissvale, where the funeral service will be held Thursday at1 p.m.