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7 Major League Baseball Stadium Icons

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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.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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entertainment
20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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