Larry Owens scooped regular, salted and Cajun peanuts into bags, and sold them to families for more than a quarter-century at Buffalo Bisons games.
His fans, who called him the “the Peanut Man,” knew they could find him on the concourse by Section 104 at Coca-Cola Field.
But come next season, he will not be there.
Owens died Sunday at the age of 71, leaving the Bisons family and fans to absorb the loss of a ballpark icon.
“Larry Owens was the first person that the Bisons hired prior to the opening of Coca-Cola Field in 1988,” said Jonathan A. Dandes, president of Rich Baseball Operations. “Throughout the years, he became an esteemed and beloved fixture to all of our fans and everyone in our organization. All of us will miss him deeply.”
The Bisons' home page mourns Owens in a way that's usually reserved for former players or managers.
“Larry the Peanut Man had such a warm and infectious smile, and his love for people made him a ballpark favorite as well as an integral part of the Bisons baseball experience,” said Mike Buczkowski, the Bisons' general manager. "He will forever be missed."
Owens was born Nov. 11, 1944, in Buffalo. He graduated from East High School and played drums in the school band. After high school, he enlisted with the Marines, where he also played in the Marine Corps band.
Owens, who also sold peanuts at Sabres games, inherited his love of selling peanuts from his father, Thomas Owens.
Thomas sold popcorn and peanuts from Lackawanna to Buffalo on a heated motorized scooter, often with little Larry in tow. He proudly told family members stories of selling peanuts in his native Tuscaloosa, Ala., to George Washington Carver, whose research led him to also be called “the Peanut Man,” and to boxing champ Joe Louis.
Later, Thomas, Larry and his late brother Billy sold peanuts at War Memorial Stadium.
Owens worked as a guard at Attica Correctional Facility for many years, but continued to sell peanuts purchased from a wholesaler.
“Peanuts was always what he did,” said Valeria Owens, one of Larry’s five siblings. “I don’t care what else, he sold the peanuts.”
The reason was simple, she said: “Larry enjoyed people, and wanted to be around them. He remembered everyone’s name and faces. He’d talk about them constantly to me, all the time. That was his second family.”
Valeria Owens said her brother hated to miss games and disappoint Bisons fans.
“If he got sick and couldn’t be there, he would be worried about people not getting his peanuts,” Owens said. “He didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Owens said she doesn’t know the cause of her brother’s death, but he suffered for years with gall bladder problems. Gall bladder surgery in recent years helped.
Owens said she was told her brother was coming out of his apartment building around 11 a.m. Sunday to go to a Jehovah’s Witness service. He told someone he felt dizzy, took a few steps and fell. He died soon after.
“This was just a tremendous shock,” she said. “We didn’t know if he was sick because he was very private, and wouldn’t have told us.”
Former Bisons general manager Mike Billoni helped give Owens the opportunity to work at Coca-Cola Field, back when it was called Pilot Field. He said buying peanuts from the Peanut Man became as much of a ritual as watching the game’s first pitch, or standing for the seventh-inning stretch.
“Baseball fans entering the ballpark made the Peanut Man their first stop,” Billoni said. “He became a Bisons institution.”
Billoni said Owens was a favorite with Bisons management, too.
“From Day One he was treated like a very special vendor. What Larry wanted, Larry got,” Billoni said. “He had carte blanche and he was so respectful, and everyone was so respectful of him. He was a great, great guy.”
Valeria Owens said more than anything, her brother had a knack for making others feel good.
“He had this gleam in his eye that just sparkled,” she said. “He was always, always like that, even when he was sick in the hospital. He’d open his eyes and they’d sparkle like little diamonds.”
Owens is survived by two sons, Keith and Michael, and a second sister, Lillian Turner.