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"
Wickers, 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
Baseball 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
By 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
Tyler 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
If 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
If 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.