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‘Wally the Beer Man’ Keeps Pouring

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March 30, 2016


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Wally the Beer Man,” 81, has been hawking beer at various Minneapolis and St. Paul venues since 1970, but something is different this winter and spring.  When Wally McNeil returns to his Plymouth home from the Xcel Energy Center after selling beer at Minnesota Wild games, Joyce McNeil, his wife for 28 years, isn’t there to greet him.

Joyce passed away on January 25 at age 85 from heart problems.  An empty house can’t be very welcoming to Minnesota’s favorite beer vendor.  To help deal with sadness Wally has sold beer at almost every Wild game this season.

Wally and Joyce met while employed at Twin City Wholesale Drug.  She worked in city desk sales; he was vice president of operations.  They were married June 23, 1988.

Wally at Canterbury Park

Wally at Canterbury Park

Joyce wasn’t a passionate sports fan but attended games when Wally was selling beer in the stands.  About 16 years ago Joyce and Wally got into horse racing ownership at Canterbury Park.  The couple bought race horses with Canterbury owner Curtis Sampson.  Over the years the McNeils owned more than a dozen horses but none more successful than Wally’s Choice, whose lifetime earnings at the Shakopee racetrack and elsewhere are the second highest ever for a Minnesota bred.

Wally’s Choice was inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame last year.  Wally attended the ceremony but Joyce’s health kept her away.  The Hall of Fame recognition brightened Joyce’s spirits.  “She was excited,” Wally said.

During baseball season Wally will again be a celebrity beer seller at Sneaky Pete’s downtown and on special event dates at Canterbury Park he will also be selling beer.  What’s his favorite brew?

“A cold one that somebody else pays for,” he answered.

Although he didn’t need the money and still doesn’t, Wally started selling beer at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1970 for attractions like professional wrestling.  He enjoyed being around people at various events.  Customers liked him, too—drawn to his deep voice and friendly manner.

For decades part of the fun at a Twins game was buying a beer from Wally.  His association with Target Field ended several years ago, though, after he and other beer sellers were targeted in a sting operation involving sales to underage drinkers.  A Hennepin County jury found him not guilty, but Wally has chosen not to work anymore at Target Field.

Wally will turn 82 in August but has no plans to stop selling beer.  He has no health issues after triple bypass heart surgery in 2009.  “My blood pressure is 110 over 66,” he said.

Some Minnesota retirees move to Florida.  Others sit in rocking chairs on their porches.  Wally, a fit 6-2, 210 pounds, just keeps going as the king of Minnesota beer vendors.

“As long as the good Lord lets me,” he said.  “One day at a time.”

Worth Noting

Former Gophers All-American safety Tyrone Carter is working with potential 2016 NFL draft choices including cornerback Rashard Robinson who Carter said is a first round talent but likely to be selected in the third round.  Carter operates the Tyrone Carter Elite Training Schools in the Twin Cities and Robinson is from Carter’s prep alma mater, Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Robinson’s playing time at LSU was reduced because of a suspension for violation of team rules.  The 6-3, 177-pound player is gifted but Carter said his pupil will not go in the first round because of his off-field “baggage.”  Carter, who won the Jim Thorpe Award at Minnesota honoring the nation’s best college defensive back, said Robinson had the skills to also win the award.  “He is a talented young kid for his size,” Carter said.

David Cobb

David Cobb

Varmah Sonie, who is from Burnsville and was a senior cornerback for Northern Iowa in 2012, is also receiving instruction from Carter.  Sonie hopes to join an NFL team as a free agent.  Carter is also working with former Gophers David Cobb (Titans running back) and Ra’Shede Hageman (Falcons defensive tackle).

An announcement soon seems likely that the Vikings will name Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season, as their 2015 MVP.  The Vikings will honor team award winners in multiple categories including MVP at the Hilton Minneapolis April 17.  That evening the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame hosts its 9th annual Minnesota Football Honors event.  See the March 16 Sports Headliners for more about the event that also honors high school scholar-athletes.

Spring football continues this week for the Gophers with two practices open to the public scheduled at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.  Practice tomorrow (Thursday) begins at 3:45 p.m. and activities Saturday start at 11 a.m.  (A Gophers spokesman e-mailed that practice locations can be switched to TCF Bank Stadium.  Fans can check for updates on Twitter @GopherFootball.)

The Wild, with five games remaining to make the playoffs, may catch a weary opponent tomorrow night at Xcel Energy Center when playing the Senators.  Ottawa plays at Winnipeg tonight before travelling to St. Paul.  The Wild have won six consecutive games after last night’s victory over the Blackhawks.

Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr. will again honor his mom, the late Carol Fitzgerald, at an April 8 fundraising dinner and celebration at the Minneapolis Event Center (St. Anthony Main).  His mom passed away in 2003 and the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund was established to assist charitable causes important to her.  Guests at next month’s Carol’s Night will include Fitzgerald and ESPN’s Josina Anderson.  VIP ticket guests receive photo opportunities with Fitzgerald, the nine-time Cardinals NFL pro bowler.  More information is available by calling 612-770-4575.

Monday’s announcement the Lynx will play a preseason game in Rochester on May 8 prompts speculation the WNBA team might play more exhibitions at the Mayo Civic Center in 2017 and beyond.  The Lynx have a multi-year partnership with the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic.  The Lynx haven’t played a game in Rochester since 2003 and no doubt will be interested in gauging fan response this spring.  The defending WNBA champion team will play the Mystics in a Sunday game beginning at 4 p.m.

Lindsay Whalen

Lindsay Whalen

Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen joins commentators Dave Benz and Jim Petersen tonight on the Fox Sports North telecast of the Timberwolves-Clippers game from Target Center.  Whalen is the Lynx franchise record holder in assists (1,072), and ranks third all-time in the WNBA for career assists (2,033).  She is one of six players in WNBA history with 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.  The Minnesota native starts her 12th WNBA season this spring, seventh with the Lynx.

The St. Thomas men’s basketball team will be honored for their NCAA Division III national championship prior to the Timberwolves game.  Earlier this month the Tommies won their second national title in the past six years.

Bill Robertson, WCHA commissioner, e-mailed his league is represented by 33 current or former players at the women’s International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships that started Monday and continues through April 4 in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Annie Pankowski from the Badgers and Lee Stecklein of the Gophers will compete for the United States and are among 11 student-athletes who played during the 2015-2016 college season.  Pankowski will be a junior at Wisconsin next season, while Stecklein will be a senior at Minnesota.

Author Patrick Mader’s official book launch is tomorrow (Thursday) for “Minnesota Gold: Conversations with Northland Athletes Competing on the World Stage.”  Mader’s book profiles 57 Minnesotans, including past Olympians, and details their lives and accomplishments.  His event will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at Braemar Golf Club in Edina, with a program at 7 p.m.  Seven of the Minnesota athletes from the book are expected to attend:  Trina Radke (swimming), Tami and Toni Jameson (team handball), Jim Mastro (wrestling), Mark Lutz (track), Van Nelson (track), and Janet Gerhauser (pairs figure skating).  More at Patrickmader.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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