Two hours before the start of Game 6 of the ALCS Saturday, Yawkey Way was bustling with fans congregating before they entered Fenway Park.
Navigating the crowd that fills the narrow street is often chaotic, but for Big League Brian, who stands nearly 10 feet above the pavement, he possesses the best sight lines when maneuvering the busy area.
Brian Dwyer, better recognized as the “man on the stilts,’’ is the life of the party prior to home games. Dressed in white baseball pants and a Red Sox jersey, he is hard to miss.
As he worked his way through the crowd, Dwyer posed for pictures and caught up with frequent visitors.
“They love to check in, they love to say hi and talk for a moment,” Dwyer said. “I represent a tangible, approachable part of Fenway for them.”
When John Henry purchased the Red Sox in 2002, a series of renovations unfolded and by the end of that season, the Yawkey Way concourse opened for entertainment before the games.
A string of former Faneuil Hall street performers began working the area when it opened, and Dwyer sought a way to stand out, quite literally.
“I decided to get on stilts, we had so many performers and I wanted to do something different,” said Dwyer, who is 5 feet, 8 inches. “I already had really good balance and coordination, and the first time I got up on stilts, it was just fine.”
There aren’t as many performers on Yawkey Way now, but there is never a shortage of fun. Dwyer, who wears a righthanded first baseman’s mitt, played catch with young fans and delivered quirky one-liners to keep the mood light before the game.
When Dwyer wanted to get the attention of the crowd, he turned to his signature trick: he balanced his hat on his nose, and after a few seconds, flipped it back to the top of his head. Often, Dwyer improvises to suit the crowd’s mood.
“Comedy, a lot of silent comedy, just looks and takes and faces, it’s all what the situation calls for,” Dwyer said. “Sometimes, I’ll bring out the ukulele and sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’
Likewise, Dwyer accompanied the Hot Tamales — a brass band that provides live music for the crowd. He bounced his baseball off the band’s snare drum in between drummer hits — a perfectly timed trick that has been carefully crafted over his 12 seasons of entertaining on Yawkey Way.
While Dwyer works down Yawkey Way, he also sings — a skill he learned from his grandfather, Rico, when he was 4 years old.
“It’s a riot,” said Matt Pellerin, a fan from Manchester, N.H. “He’s the first thing you see, he’s exciting and he goes crazy with everybody, I love it.”
Dwyer, a Somerville native, had a keen interest in magic ever since he was a child. When he injured his knee in the seventh grade, his doctor showed him a magic trick, and piqued his interest.
Dwyer purchased a trick book and began performing at shows and birthday parties, and his interest snowballed. Dwyer attended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & BaileyClown College and toured with the Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars for four years, spawning his career as an entertainer.
“The first time we came to the park, for me, was 2010 and we only come once every year,” said Nadine Lewis, a fan from Nova Scotia. “I have lots of pictures in my vacation album with Brian. He’s awesome. I love how he interacts with all the fans and it’s great.”
While standing atop his Marshalltown Skywalkers, Dwyer has only fallen twice in his career as a performer.
If his dexterity on stilts could be represented as a fielding percentage, Dwyer would be a sure-bid Gold Glover.
One tumble came at a photo shoot on a friend’s stilts, which had frayed straps. The other time, he was at Fenway after the 2004 World Series victory walking through the concrete hallway when he slipped in a puddle of cooking oil.
“I didn’t know it because the lights weren’t on,” Dwyer recalled. “And I was like Bambi on ice.”
Even so, Dwyer said he was most worried when, during either the 2004 or 2007 World Series, roughly 30 riot squad officers marched down Yawkey Way.
“It was getting close to game time, and swat people ran in a straight line, and jogged down the street,” Dwyer said. “Full riot gear. I think they wanted to just have a presence, but out of nowhere, 30 guys jogging down the middle of the street and I’m thinking, ‘Is there something I need to know?’
“I’m not in a very advantageous position if anything is going wrong.”
But more often than not, Dwyer often holds the best position, and that’s perched above the crowd.