Dressed in an orange and black jersey and jacket, David Walton carried a garbage bag over his shoulder, slung like Santa’s bag of toys. “All right, here we go,” he said, taking in a deep breath just outside Camden Yards. “Into the fire.”

As he entered the packed bar, a patio of people spilling out toward the street, Walton looked around for a discreet place to complete his transformation. Superman had a phone booth; Walton had the second-floor fire escape of Section 771. He pulled from the trash bag an enormous, winking foam head. There would be no missing Mr. Boh.

No one has ever been more popular than the Natty Boh man in a crowd of drunk people on opening day. Not Mickey Mouse nor Santa himself could have instantly engendered so much goodwill among the masses. Walton was able to walk no more than a single step before being stopped for a photo, handshake or both, akin to a politician at a meet and greet or a bride at a wedding. When he finally got back outside, women beckoned him to come dance; one began twerking against him until Mr. Boh, ever the gentleman, backed away and offered a good-natured shoulder pat instead.

Mr. Boh shakes the hands of friends and well-wishers at Section 771, a bar outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Christina Tkacik / The Baltimore Banner)

At an earlier stop, people “were clamoring for him like they were clamoring for Beyoncé,” said Elise Porcelli, clawing at the air to demonstrate. Porcelli, a marketing consultant, was acting as Mr. Boh’s “handler” for the day, following him through the sea of people with a backpack full of Natty Boh koozies, which she passed out to eager, outstretched hands.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Moving forward, Baltimoreans can expect to see a lot more of Mr. Boh — and National Bohemian, the beer he has represented since the 1930s. In efforts to capitalize on the built-in affection for Boh in the region, parent company Pabst Brewing Co. has expanded the marketing and sales team devoted to the brew, which was created in Baltimore but left the area in the 1990s. The announcement this week that Boh would be sold at Camden Yards for the first time in nearly a decade was just the beginning.

“It’s about not only just showing up in the stadium; it’s about showing up in and around the stadium,” said Emily Hoyle, senior marketing director for Pabst, who is based out of the company’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. “Mr. Boh is really the emblem of Baltimore pride.”

Hoyle’s portfolio includes other “local legends” — regional beers with strong local ties — including Old Style in Chicago, Stroh’s beer in Detroit and Stag beer in St. Louis. But there’s nothing quite like Boh, and especially the man who represents it. “No one else has a Mr. Boh like Natty Boh,” she said.

The beer industry has been in a slump for years, in part because there are so many alternatives available, such as hard seltzers and canned cocktails, and in part because drinking rates are down nationally. But Natty Boh is unique, drawing drinkers from a variety of ages and backgrounds. “They could be a craft beer drinker; they could be a spirits drinker,” said Pabst Senior District Sales Manager Jeremy Knapp, who lives in in Bel Air.

Boh drinkers do have one thing in common, though: location. Charm City makes up 80% of sales, and the beer is sold only in a few states surrounding Maryland.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Seeing as how Boh is now made in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, can it really be considered a local beer? “What makes a brand local is its roots and its heritage,” Hoyle said. “The evolution of production may change, but the spiritual home of the brand will always be Baltimore.”

Mr. Boh greets fans at Section 771. This is the first time in years that Natty Boh has been available at the ballpark. (Christina Tkacik / The Baltimore Banner)

Hoyle started working with Natty Boh two years ago and began looking at ways to reinvigorate the brand. Within Pabst, the marketing and sales team dedicated to Natty Boh grew from three to six. They asked, “How can we do better for Baltimore?” Hoyle said. One answer: get back to Camden Yards.

The beer was pulled from the ballpark’s offerings in 2016 as the Orioles feuded with Pabst over what the team called unauthorized use of its trademarks. Hoyle declined to go into the specifics of how Pabst negotiated Boh’s return to the Yard. “I’m not trying to play coy,” she said. “It really was an organic, natural conversation. … The Orioles were open to additional products in the stadium.”

Bringing Natty Boh back to Oriole Park is just part of a larger push for the brand in Baltimore, according to Pabst Sales Director Stenia Goulet. “You’re going to see us a lot more,” she said as she waited with Knapp outside of a pre-opening day party on Ostend Street where Mr. Boh was making his rounds.

Her team is looking into opportunities for cross-promotions, similar to those we’ve seen from McCormick and Old Bay in recent years. On Instagram, the brand shared Natty Boh watches made by Tsao Baltimore. The company is sponsoring Bob’s Pizza Tour, a project from marketing consultant Robert Hanlon.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Goulet and Knapp have been uncovering lost treasures from National Bohemian’s storage unit in Canton, near what was once the beer’s manufacturing site in Brewers Hill. They’ve found old wooden beer crates and mascot heads so heavy “I don’t know how anyone could ever wear it,” Knapp said.

They special-ordered a new head online.

David Walton, who performs under the alias Shepsworth Bentley, transforms into Mr. Boh on the fire escape of Section 771. (Christina Tkacik / The Baltimore Banner)

Walton said he got the call about the Mr. Boh gig last year when he was getting off a bartending job. His boss asked him if he could fill in for another Boh last minute. “I jumped at the chance,” said Walton, who often works under the pseudonym Shepsworth Bentley. “This is a Baltimore treasure right here.”

Since then, Walton, who stands 6-foot-5 without the Boh head and much, much taller with the head on, has played Mr. Boh at numerous local bar crawls and other events. “Everyone knows it’s him because he’s so tall,” Porcelli said. “We joke he’s one of the tall boy cans.”

Whether continued popularity of Mr. Boh will translate into greater sales for Natty Boh remains to be seen.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Back at Camden Yards, cans of Boh and other domestic beers were going for $15.49 at an automated market near one of the stadium entrances. Sara Hutchison, who lives out of state and flies back every year for opening day, was preparing to buy one. “It was my grandfather’s beer,” she said. “I live in Colorado now — definitely no Natty Boh there.”

Chris Battista, on the other hand, was sipping a Duckpin Pale Ale by Medfield’s Union Craft Brewing. No Boh for him. “I’d rather have a Baltimore beer,” he said.

More From The Banner