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Popcorn vendor turns Phillies games into a balancing act

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No one on, two outs, bottom of the fourth, and the crowd in Section 120 at Citizens Bank Park is listless.

Then Samantha DiMarco steps down the aisle with a plastic tub full of popcorn boxes balanced on her head.

Fans look up. Some call out to stop her. She has a sale.

Philadelphia’s stadiums these days are largely free of the colorful hawkers of yore, vendors who developed a following. Charles “The Doggie Man” Frank cracked wise while touting his “hot daaaags” at the Palestra, Connie Mack, and Veterans Stadium. Seymour “Pops” Steinberg roamed the Vet, crying out, “Cotton candy, here!” in a distinctively nasal singsong. Sometimes, you’d buy just so he’d pipe down for a minute.

DiMarco, 26, sells popcorn at the ballpark as a supplement to her day job as a physical therapy aide with Premier Orthopedics. She started working for Crown Foods, a subcontractor of Aramark, in 2015. Her first product was lemonade, sold out of wire racks. The melting ice on a hot day was not fun, and “I said, ‘I’m not doing this again.’”

Popcorn is much cleaner, and lighter. The tub accommodates 30 boxes, with a total weight under five pounds.

But why the balancing act?

“Truth be told, I got bored at work,” DiMarco said. “The 2015 Phillies weren’t the greatest team. I was walking back to my stand to get more popcorn and the bin was empty. It’s big, so it’s hard to carry in front of me. I put it on my head. I took a couple of steps and then it fell, and then I picked it back up and I just kept doing that over and over. I realized it was easier to carry when it’s full. I just practiced practically every home game.”

After about a month, she said, “eventually one day I just put it on my head and it didn’t fall off. When it’s on my head, it stays. I am very attentive to everyone around me.”

Some people ask if she has suction cups or magnets to keep it on. But a spot-check showed no sign of that, or even an indentation in the tub bottom. DiMarco shrugs. “I don’t think it stays on because my head is particularly flat,” she said.

Windy days are the enemy, as you might imagine. “It is just paper boxes in an open plastic tub. I do have to hold it then,” she said. “My two biggest fears are me falling or dropping popcorn on the field. Then I’d be on SportsCenter.”

The teams notice — “the guys in the bullpen, especially the opposing teams,” she said. “They joke around or just think I’m faking it. This season, it’s the Phillies’ bullpen, every game. They wave to me and I wave back.”

DiMarco starts on the lower level on the first-base side and works her way toward third before heading to the outfield.

“People cheer for me all the time, and give me high-fives, and take my picture,” she said. “I do this as a side job in the summer because I love baseball. I love the Phillies, and it’s fun. But also, the money is nice.”

You should know the economics. Hawkers are not hourly workers. “If you buy it, I get paid,” she said. Tips keep her going, and the balancing act helps.

A box was $4 when she started and then rose to $4.25. Two seasons ago, the rise to $5 cut into her “keep the change” tips, but that has recovered, she said.

“Last week, I had a Mets fan who stopped and said, ‘We don’t want popcorn but we all chipped in,’ and he handed me like $6 and said to keep it. Well, thank you very much — for a Mets fan.”

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