7 Major League Baseball Stadium Icons

Every baseball stadium has its characters, including fans, hecklers, and longtime team employees. These people are as much a part of the identity of a team as the players themselves. Here's a not-at-all-exhaustive list of seven baseball stadium icons, beginning with the woman who set the standard upon which future generations of icons would be judged.

1. Hilda Chester: Cowbell Lady

If Christopher Walken attended a Brooklyn Dodgers game in the 1930s, he may have clamored for less cowbell. Hilda Chester wouldn't have listened. Chester, who had a job filling individual peanut bags before Dodger home games, was a regular heckler in the bleachers at Ebbets Field. After Chester suffered a heart attack, her physician forbade her from yelling, so she let her presence be known by banging a frying pan and an iron ladle instead. In the late 1930s, Dodgers players presented Chester with a brass cowbell, which she rang while berating players "“ against her doctor's orders "“ in her Brooklyn accent until the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Chester died in 1978, but is still considered one of the most iconic baseball fans of all-time.

2. Ronnie Wickers: "Woo Woo"

woo-woo.jpgWickers, whose life story was made into a 2005 documentary, WooLife, is an icon among the Bleacher Bums at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Wickers was abused by his mother and raised by his grandmother on the South Side of Chicago. He attended his first Cubs game in the 1940s and estimates that he began his idiosyncratic and piercing "Cubs, Woo! Cubs, Woo!" chant around 1958. Wickers worked as a custodian at Northwestern University for many years, but was homeless from 1984 to 1990 while he struggled to come to grips with the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother. Since then, he has capitalized on his celebrity by making money through appearances in commercials and at parties, in addition to washing windows near Wrigley Field. Today, you can still find the 68-year-old Wickers in the bleachers, wearing a Cubs jersey with "Woo-Woo" on the back, delivering his trademark chant.

3. Mike Brito: The Radar Gun Guy

radar.jpgBaseball insiders know Mike Brito as the longtime Dodgers scout who discovered pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela while on assignment in the Mexican Leagues. Casual observers know Brito as the Panama-hat-wearing, radar-gun-toting, cigar-chewing guy in the suit who sits behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Brito provided radar gun readings for no extra charge for 20 years until the installation of luxury seats and an automatic radar gun forced him out. He remains a scout with the Dodgers, but is skeptical of modern radar guns, telling the Los Angeles Times, "They want people excited, they want big numbers, but you can't fool people who know baseball." In addition to his scouting prowess, Brito has also enjoyed a successful acting career, appearing in at least 10 Mexican films. He has appeared in one American film, Talent for the Game, in which he played a baseball scout. [Photo from Flickr user Michael G. Baron.]

4. John Adams: The Drummer

drum.jpgBy day, Indians fan John Adams works on computer systems for AT&T. By night, he plays drums "“ well, drum "“ for sellout crowds in the city that's home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In an interview with the New York Times last year, Adams estimated he has taken his 26-inch-wide drum, nicknamed Big Chief Boom-Boom by legendary Indians broadcaster Herb Score, to all but 34 of the more than 2,500 home games the Indians have played since Aug. 24, 1973. Adams is also the inspiration for one of the greatest ballpark promotions of all-time: a bobblearms doll featuring his likeness, which the Indians gave away last season. Adams has set rules for when he plays the drums (never after a pitcher comes set, always when the Indians have runners in scoring position, are tied or trailing late in a game, or are ahead in the top of the ninth). "I don't see myself as being anything extra special," Adams told the Times. "I'm just a sports fan "“ a tough sports fan. And anybody who's a sports fan in Cleveland has to be tough."

5. Ernie Tyler: The 84-Year-Old Ball Boy

ballboy.jpgTyler is inarguably the Iron Man of stadium icons. On Monday, the Orioles' umpire attendant worked his 50th consecutive Opening Day. From 1960 until July 2007, Tyler didn't miss a single Orioles home game; his impressive streak ended only after he accepted an invitation from baseball's other Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr., to attend Ripken's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. In addition to rubbing mud on new baseballs before the game and delivering balls to umpires between innings, Tyler manages the umpires' room at Baltimore's Camden Yards. During the game, he can be seen sitting near the Orioles dugout, waiting to retrieve a foul ball that dribbles behind the plate or deliver a handful of baseballs to the men in blue.

6. Mark Simons: The Doorman

simons.jpgIf you've seen any highlights from a Milwaukee Brewers home game, chances are you've seen Mark Simons. While he sports a different authentic jersey from his impressive collection for each game, Simons has occupied the same seat behind the visitors' dugout at Miller Park since 2001, and his mug is visible every time a right-handed batter steps to the plate. A Brewers broadcaster anointed Simons "The Doorman" after watching him gesture for former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa to take a seat in the dugout after striking out, but "The Homer Gauge" might be a more appropriate nickname. Simons, who keeps his heckling completely PG, is usually the first person standing with his arms raised when a Brewers batter connects with a ball that is about to leave the park.

7. Robert Szasz: The Happy Heckler

heckler.jpgIf a heckler hurls insults at a player and no one is there to hear it, does he make a sound? Yes, in the case of Robert Szasz, who has owned Tampa Bay Rays season tickets behind home plate since 2003. Szasz began heckling one player from the opposing team per series and his family-friendly taunts, which pierced the idle silence of once-sparsely populated Tropicana Field, were regularly picked up by Tampa Bay's local broadcast and subsequently rebroadcast on ESPN's SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. Szasz, who drinks Sierra Mist and takes Robitussin to keep his voice in top form, aimed to capitalize on his cult following by writing a book, The Happy Heckler. There's nothing happy about the financial trouble the real estate developer is in today, however. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, banks have filed five lawsuits against him since January, claiming he has stopped paying on more than $9 million in loans.

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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