Embrace the Woo

Pick up a copy of today’s Sun-Times and you’ll see Cubs’ superfan Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers splashed across the front page under the headline: “Woo Woo’s Cubbie Blues.”

I saw it before it hit the streets. I got a text from Wickers’ spokesperson, Janet Tabit, just before midnight with a link to the article by columnist Mary Mitchell. In it, Wickers claims that Cubs security kicked him out of the bleachers during a game on April 19, because he was unable to produce a ticket.

The ticket, says Tabit, was on a friend’s phone. That’s not out of the ordinary. To hear Tabit tell the story, Wickers got in just like countless other fans enter the ballpark. It’s called an e-ticket. And you can’t just pull a ticket out of your pocket. Not when the ticket is on someone else’s phone.

The Cubs have actually encouraged fans to purchase tickets this way. Now, it seems, they’re using it as a way to give those same fans the boot. Or is it just one of their most famous fans whose been singled out?

If you’ve been to a Cubs game recently, it’s not easy to get in. Security is about as tight as it is to get onto an airplane. You have to go through security lines with metal detectors and get your ticket scanned to get into the ballpark. It stretches belief to think that Wickers somehow could have evaded all of that and entered the ballpark without a ticket. It’s not like he’s not hard to notice. He’s been a regular at the ballpark for half a century.  “Ronnie Woo Woo” is stitched onto the back of his Cubs uniform. Next to Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, he’s probably the most recognizable character at Wrigley.  Heck, he’s even got his own bobblehead doll.

Yet the Cubs and their security are apparently so worried about Wickers, who is 75, getting past them that they have to ask him to produce a ticket – even after he’s entered the stadium? When they allegedly approached him on April 19, it was the seventh inning. They hadn’t noticed him before then? His voice isn’t what it used to be but he still woos at the games.

According to Tabit, this is not the first time that Cubs security has asked Wickers to produce a ticket after he’s already in the ballpark. “There’s 40,000 other people there. Are they asking all of them for a ticket?”

“They’re singling him out,” Tabit said. “That’s harassment. That’s discrimination.”

randy-woo-wooI’d actually met up with Wickers just over a week after the alleged incident in the ballpark. He didn’t mention it all, even though we spoke for close to an hour and I had asked him why I hadn’t seen him at the ballpark much lately. I knew that he had missed the second half of last season’s championship run after suffering a knee injury in a fall in the bleachers for which he underwent reconstructive surgery.

It felt like he’d been somewhat forgotten in this new Cubs order. When the Cubs selected 20 fans to distribute World Series rings to players at a special ceremony in the second home game of the season, Wickers was noticeably absent.

All that he wants is for the team to embrace him. “He’s cheered for this team all these years,” Tabit said, “and they’ve done almost nothing for him in return.”

And now they’re booting him from the bleachers? It just doesn’t feel right. I know some find him to be nothing more than an annoying ballpark clown. They don’t know him. Take the time to talk to him. He’s such a warm and thoughtful soul.

The character he plays at Wrigley in many ways masks who he really is. For many years, he’d disappear at night into a cardboard box. Wrigley and the Cubs and their fans were his escape from his cold reality. When he wore that uniform he had superhero powers that at least for a few hours a day made him feel pure joy.

Thankfully he’s off the streets now and back on his feet. He said he’s even been dancing at The Hangge-Uppe, the kitschy retro dance club at Rush and Division. At 75, he’s still sharp. He can reel off the names of Cubs players from when he became a fan and first started his iconic woo back in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

And then when you ask him his greatest memory as a Cubs fan, he’ll tell you it is talking with you.

Last season, Cubs ended 108 years of futility behind the “embrace the target” message of manager Joe Maddon.

Almost a quarter of the way into the current season, they’re scuffling at the .500 mark. It’s time for a new mantra that can lift them back to that championship form. It’s time to Embrace the Woo.

Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation