For two seasons, Da’Quan Samuel provided the most entertaining sideshow at Durham Bulls games, jabbing his hands in the air, swinging his hips like a hula-hoop king and howling into the stands with his gravel-throated yawp.
“PeaNUTS!” he would holler, sounding like a Brooklyn newsie, or better yet one of the surly vendors stalking Ebbetts Field in 1934. “THREE DOLLARS!”
He became the Peanut Guy, so popular that fans craved his autograph and kids posed for pictures. Videos of his dancing antics made their way onto YouTube, and often, when he yelled his signature line, an entire section of fans would holler back, “PeaNUTS!”
But the stands are quiet now, and Bulls fans must content themselves with the YMCA dance and the giant Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh puppets. Or the actual game.
The Peanut Guy got fired.
“I was having a really fun time,” said Samuel, 22, meeting me Tuesday at The Streets at Southpoint mall. “I feel like if I can be myself in this place, I can make people – I don’t want to say change their personality, because that would sound weird – but have something they can hold on to.”
Most of the reasons for Samuel getting the ax boil down to private personnel issues the Bulls can’t and won’t discuss in this column, though club leaders said it was a tough call they knew fans would protest. But the one explanation the Bulls could discuss deserves some public debate. It seems that in the mind of the team’s most avid spectators, the season-ticket holders who don’t spend entire innings in the beer line, the Peanut Guy’s shtick ran a tad over the top.
“When you come to one, two or three games, you’re going to love Da’Quan,” said Bulls’ General Manager Mike Birling. “When you’re a season-ticket holder, hearing that every day, you’re going to have complaints.”
As a longtime fan of minor league baseball, I cut my spectating teeth with the Cape Fear Crocs in Fayetteville, where we sat on aluminum bleachers behind a chain-link fence and cheered for Milton Bradley – not because we knew he’d play in the big leagues one day, but because he shared his name with the board game company that made Candyland. The Crocs offered dollar-beer night every Thursday, and the striving of the Fayetteville Nine acted more as background noise than the main attraction.
But Durham draws attendees who actually keep score in their programs and pay attention to the action on the field even, when the giant Bull on the left field wall isn’t spouting smoke out of its nostrils. Samuel got warned, Birling said, that he was becoming an unwelcome distraction.
“They’re trying to concentrate,” Birling said. “There were times when the National Anthem was playing and he’d be yelling ‘PeaNUTS!”
I don’t know Samuel well, but he comes off as a nice guy. He told me he grew up in the Bull City and used to be on the dance team at Durham Tech. “My personality is like being fun and full of life,” he said. “I’m like a loveable type of person. Energetic.”
The Bulls knew they’d take high heat letting Samuel go. Since learning of the dismissal, Peanut Guy fans have wailed and gnashed their teeth in protest, lamenting the loss of such a colorful almost-mascot – a figure who ranks, in my mind, up there with Wool E. Bull.
“The vendors are a big part of the Bulls fan experience,” said Durham dad Dan Niblock, “and among the vendors, the Peanut Man is a standout. His simple call to arms (“PeaNUTS!”) is unmistakable and unforgettable. He has a smile for everyone. Kids love him. Parents love him. He’s the biggest thing to hit peanuts since Jimmy Carter.”
And one from Stephan Crum on Twitter: “My new alarm clock sound ... Durham Bulls peanut guy!”
Wherever you come down on the Peanut Guy, there’s no doubt he put his heart into his act, and it made a lot of people pay attention to a sport that – let’s just admit it – can move a little slow. Samuel is trying to get a job with a telecommunications firm, and I wish him luck, but he clearly has skills that would lie dormant there.
I don’t want to second-guess the team’s decision, but still it’s sad. The peanuts will never taste as good.