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This peanut vendor reels, then rolls on

Mickey Freymuller was sailing 76 miles off the Florida Keys with his wife and the manager of the Charlotte, N.C., Coliseum when he heard the news: The baseball strike had struck and the rest of the 1994 season was in jeopardy.

Freymuller, a peanut and snack distributor who supplies three major-league baseball stadiums and several other sports arenas, suddenly saw a large chunk of his profits going down the drain.

"I got a real sick feeling," said Freymuller, who operates Mickey's Game Time Peanuts in Oldsmar and Tampa. "Needless to say, it wrecked the rest of my vacation."

This would have been World Series week. Were it not for the strike, Freymuller would be counting his cash from the 1994 baseball season. Now he counts $140,000 less than he had projected.

He and his crew of 15 have been scrambling to make up for the loss of profits from the 7,000 cases of peanuts they planned to sell at baseball games. That's 210,000 4-ounce bags and 126,000 8-ounce bags.

Freymuller said baseball makes up about 25 percent of his business. He estimates a loss of 13 percent.

But Freymuller does not succumb easily to adversity.

This is a businessman who, when he boiled too many peanuts for his Oldsmar Flea Market customers, sold the extras to convenience stores. He has beaten out larger competitors by filling orders at shorter notice.

One winter, he and older brother Doug drove 50 cases of peanuts to the Charlotte Coliseum overnight. Wrestling fans had eaten all the arena's peanuts earlier and a circus was on its way.

The baseball strike may be the company's largest crisis to date. But Freymuller said he and his staff haven't taken it lying down.

"We just didn't sit idle, that's for sure," said Freymuller. "When something falls through, you've got to go do something else."

When Woodstock '94 descended on Saugerties, N.Y. in August, Freymuller made sure 3,000 cases of Mickey's Game Time Peanuts were there. The crowd gobbled them up in 36 hours.

"It's bit off about half of what I would have lost with baseball," Freymuller said. "It just lessened the pain, that's all."

But Freymuller said the strike has given him time to pick up contracts. Among them are the Target Center, where the Minnesota Timberwolves play, the Denver Nuggets' McNichols Arena and the Atlanta Hawks' Omni Center.

He's also gotten new college accounts such as Kansas State, Missouri and Villanova, in Pennsylvania.

"Hell, I didn't even know where Villanova was," Freymuller said.

Another plus, Freymuller said, is that the three major-league baseball venues he serves also have NFL teams. The venues are Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium.

"They have enough events booked . . . to the point that I've stayed busy," Freymuller said. "We're going to stay busy. It's just not as busy as it would have been."

Still, Freymuller used to relish waking up to the morning paper and seeing the attendance numbers at stadiums carrying his products. These days, it's more than a little depressing.

"Now I get up and I see "Al Lang Stadium _ 543 people.' "

Bad luck struck again when the National Hockey League lockout began. Because of Mickey's Peanuts' policy of buying back unsold merchandise, the company had to pick up 100 cases of peanuts from the ThunderDome.

"We just shipped them right back out to the next guy that called," Freymuller said. "I don't even know where they went."

The hockey lockout added insult to injury, but Freymuller said he's trying not to complain. His permanent staff _ his wife, Karen, Doug and plant manager Bill Wendell _ is intact. His temporary staff is down to 12 from the usual 14 or 15.

"I didn't fire anybody or anything like that," Freymuller said.

He knows that many people whose livelihood depends on baseball are faring much worse.

One man who rented binoculars to fans at Minnesota Twins games has gone out of business, Freymuller said. Another who sells commemorative cups has seen business plummet.

"He said that his business has dropped off 80 percent," Freymuller said. "They have circled the wagons big time."

While he's counting his blessings, Freymuller dreads the possible loss of spring training. He supplies 23 major-league spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.

"The spring training down here is the equivalent of one team's whole major-league season," Freymuller said.

He admits the baseball strike has cast a long shadow over the business.

"Baseball is the No. 1 market. There's just no comparison," he said. "It's like a dull pain. I still feel it every day."

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