Few traditions are more intimately associated with baseball than beer-swilling. Not the seventh-inning stretch. Not the national anthem. Not the World Series.
Each of these hallmarks of the treasured American pastime emerged after 1882, when Chris von der Ahe purchased the bankrupt St. Louis baseball club ― and shepherded fans to his nearby beer garden. It was at that moment, still in the sport’s infancy, that baseball and beer were bound. The profits reaped by the German immigrant and entrepreneur confirmed that it was a match made in heaven.
Fast-forward 136 years to a modern-day prophet of the marriage between baseball and beer: Todd Keeling. Like von der Ahe, a denizen of America’s Midwest; like von der Ahe, an entrepreneur.
Keeling had developed a beer tap, the “Quick Draw” faucet that was expected to make beer flow three times faster at SunTrust Park, the major league home of the Atlanta Braves. Within five seconds, Budweiser or Coors would brim from the cups of Braves die-hards, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The 48-year-old from White Bear Lake, Minn., worked an overnight shift Monday installing the new technology. At some point, he went into a beer cooler behind a concession area in Section 331 of the stadium, north of Atlanta. The walk-in cooler was large enough to hold plenty of beer, and the temperature inside never fell below 40 degrees.
Keeling’s body was dragged lifeless from the cooler on Tuesday afternoon, hours before the Braves faced off against the Cincinnati Reds. CPR failed to revive him.
His aunt, Fran Kuchta, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that he had been trapped inside the insulated container. The medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy, but findings had not been released Wednesday. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also was investigating the death.
A co-worker discovered his body in the cooler just before the Braves home game Tuesday afternoon, according to Fox 5 in Atlanta.
“The Atlanta Braves are deeply saddened by the passing of Todd Keeling,” the team said in a statement. “We admired the passion he had for both his company and his product. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Delaware North Sportservice, the vendor managing concession services at the park, said Keeling had “dedicated his life to elevating the draft beer experience.” His innovation had already graced Target Field in Minneapolis and the Chicago White Sox’s Guarantee Rate Field.
Kuchta told the Atlanta newspaper that Keeling was a father of two teenage boys, who had traveled with him to Atlanta to support the installation but had left several days ago. Keeling was putting finishing touches on the tap system, plans for which he had been devising ever since he finished college.
“This is his dream since he was a kid,” she said. “He’s a big kid himself.”
Keeling requested a patent for his beer tap in 2014, federal records show. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted him the license two years later. “The new nozzle is longer, has a small bent and end openings for a more precise release of beer from the outlet of the spout,” a summary of the invention states. The crucial breakthrough was the ability to limit the volume of foam.
“Foam is sometimes desirable to protect the upper surface of a beer from oxidation with air,” Keeling acknowledged, but too much can be bothersome. “Bartenders use tools and skill to remove the excess foam resulting in drips of beer and glasses that may be sticky for the patron.”
But all of that takes time, keeping fans away from the action.
Von der Ahe’s 19th-century vision was to make it easier for followers of fledgling American baseball clubs to find a satisfying brew.
Keeling died with a 21st-century version of that vision in mind.