09/11/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
The scouting report on Arnie Murphy goes like this: good arm, amazing control and boy, does his stuff go great with a beer. The Pedro Martinez of peanut vendors, Murphy, 52, is a celebrity at Enron Field, home of the Houston Astros, where he wows fans with his pinpoint pitchouts and no-look, behind-the-back flings from rows away. "If I had his control, I'd be a lot more dominating," says Astros pitcher Billy Wagner. Adds second-baseman Craig Biggio: "He's got some serious range."
Answering to cries of "Peanut Dude!" and clocked on his throws at 42 mph, Murphy was invited to work the All-Star game in Atlanta this season (his third) and last year became the only vendor to throw out the first pitch—or, rather, nuts—at an Astros game. "I try to draw people into it," says Murphy, who sometimes hurls bags attached to elastic bands so they snap back and only occasionally bops fans by mistake. "I think secretly a lot of men and women are buying peanuts just for the throw."
Murphy began pitching peanuts outside Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium as a teen and later ran a concessions business with his wife, Betty, who died in 1995. A good friend offered him the Astros gig eight years ago, and Murphy was soon using his high school basketball skills to jazz up the job—a job he plans on keeping as long as his arm holds up. "I think there's a little kid inside all of us," he says, "who just likes to go outside and play."