RICHMOND -- His kiosk flanked that of Peet's Coffee and Semifreddi's fine breads, but Costco shoppers streaming by were quickly drawn to the hulking man with the toothy smile and hundreds of black and red beer cases.
"What's this here," said one woman, pausing to make sense of the sensory onslaught.
"It's the Big Hurt's beer right here," said the man, rising from his chair to his full 6-foot-5 and casually scooping up a case. "You need to try out a 12-pack."
Former Oakland A's and Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas was at Costco in Richmond on Friday evening to officially launch his namesake lager. The Richmond store is the first in the chain to sell the beer, with Thomas set to launch the product in a Costco in San Leandro on Saturday.
The jovial baseball star -- who helped lead the A's to the playoffs in 2006 with 39 home runs -- doled out more than 300 cases to customers, selling them as much with his personality as his beer's slick packaging.
Big Hurt Beer, or BHB, is also on sale at BevMo stores in California and is widely available in several states since debuting in the Chicago area in 2011.
In 2012, Big Hurt Beer, which is brewed at the Minhas Craft Brewery, in Monroe, Wis., sold just more than 10,000 cases across six states, according to Thomas' business partner, Jeff Moses.
The brand has two different products. Twelve-ounce cases of Big Hurt Beer, which pack a potent 7 percent alcohol by volume, sell for $15.99. BHB MVP, sold in cases of 12-ounce bottles and containing 5 percent alcohol, sell for $17.99.
"We'll see how it does here and go from there," Moses said.
Thomas manned the kiosk with unwavering energy Friday. Wearing a black polo shirt and bluejeans, the presumptive Hall of Famer with 521 home runs on his resume chatted up and joked with customers, signing autographs and posing for pictures for two hours as his stack of beer cases shrunk.
Ricky Veluz, a 35-year-old Oakland resident and "die hard A's fan," showed up with a stack of Thomas' 1990 Score baseball cards for the star sign.
"Thank you Frank, thanks so much," Veluz said as Thomas scrawled signatures across his cards. Veluz and Thomas posed for pictures together. Veluz left with four cases of beer.
Thomas, who is scheduled to receive his first Hall of Fame vote this year, made headlines earlier in the day with news reports quoting him as criticizing other players from his era for using performance enhancing drugs, something he adamantly spoke out against several times during his career.
In between chatting with fans and customers, Thomas had no qualms with responding to questions about steroids.
"It was a nightmare," Thomas said of the prevalence of drugs during his playing days. "And it's continuing. What's it going to take to stop it? Baseball has to come down hard. First offense, suspension. Second time, banned for life."
Thomas continued: "I mean no disrespect to anybody. I'm not outspoken, I just speak the truth. Players need to follow rules and set good examples of conduct."
Thomas said that if he is inducted to the Hall of Fame, he will go there in a Chicago White Sox cap because that is where he played the majority of his career. But he said his brief stint with the A's was special.
"2006 was a magical year," Thomas said. "We had a close unit, and a lot of young guys, kids on that team. They rejuvenated me."
While product endorsement is nothing new, especially among Chicago-based athletes like Michael Jordan and Mike Ditka, a namesake beer is something of a rarity.
Thomas said he is determined to give his business venture the same meticulous attention to detail and passion that he brought to the baseball diamond.
"It's big to be in Costco," he said in-between bites of a beefy Costco hot dog. "I have to continue to push, to be passionate. The good part is that my beer is excellent. I wouldn't put myself out there for an inferior product."