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Ronnie ‘Woo Woo’ Wickers

Fri, Apr 20, 2012

“Woo! Cubs! Woo! Cubs! Woo! Cubs! Woo! Cubs!” Almost every Chicagoan who’s gone to a game at Wrigley Field can tell you who coined this style of cheering for the Cubbies. Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers’ dedication to the Cubs organization spans more than 60 years, since 1949 when he attended his first game as a little boy. He has never looked back and Cubs baseball is now his passion and also his savior. He can’t wait for the season to officially begin on April 5.

Ronnie has battled the loss of family, of his job and of his home, but his love for this team has brought him through the darkness. In the early ’90s, Cubs fans, along with the help of radio host Mancow Muller, rallied together to pay for Ronnie’s dental work and get him a set of fake teeth. He also found a supporter in Janet Tabit, a fellow Cubs fan, who became his best friend and not only found him housing, but headed a rigorous campaign to get Ronnie to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in 2005. He’s come a long way and, at 70 years old, still has a lot of “woo- ing” to do.

StreetWise: How many years have you been a Cubs fan?

Ronnie: My first ballgame was in 1949. I saw Jackie Robinson play. It was my grandma, [Mamie McGee], who used to take me to the ballgame and at that time, they had only eight teams.
SW: Did you ever play baseball?

R: I grew up in the south side of Chicago at 4748 South Evans, one block east of Cottage Grove, and we would all play in a lot near my house. And I did play semi-pro. We were the Chicago Cats at that time. But I just couldn’t hit a curve ball. It’s hard. I mean, the ball comes at 90 miles per hour. You have to have really good coordination.

SW: You know there are two teams in Chicago… why the Cubs?

R: Well at that time, we were all small kids and we had stuffed animals. I had a little teddy bear and the Cubs had an emblem that was a bear. I was about maybe 11 years old and when I put the baseball together with the bear, I just liked that. I had the teddy bear and I loved baseball. And I loved the Cubs at the time and so I thought, well this is great.

SW: There’s a difference between a fan and a super fan… why have you taken your fandom to the extreme?

R: I guess I just never made the decision to be “extreme.” It just happened, like it was meant to happen. But you know, baseball is like anything. You’ll get out of it what you put into it. I put a lot into the game and into the fans and into the people and into the Cubs organization, because of my love for the game. But with a team like the Cubs and with a field like Wrigley, it’s easy to fall in love. When you go to Wrigley Field, something just comes over you. It just comes over you. It’s a magic that’s unexplainable, but it’s a real good feeling. And it’s still the same. I’ll go to the ballpark and it’s just magic.
SW: When did you first start your famous “woo” chant?

R: I was at the ballgame one day and everyone was clapping and cheering. And then something just came to me and I said, “Woo! Woo! Woo!” And somebody said, “What’d you say?” So I said, “Santo! Woo! Santo! Woo! Santo! Woo!” I say all the players’ names and I could be so loud sometimes. And then the players would go to the dugout and say to each other, “Do you hear what I hear?” They used to talk. And then sometimes they would point to me or point to another player to give me a signal to call his name. And they would have fun with it and it would sort of relax them.

SW: Do fans ever get upset when you’re doing your cheer?

R: Oh yeah, you get that a lot of times and you just have to continue what you’re doing. In life, some people will like you and some people aren’t going to like you. But you just try to be a gentleman and have a lot of fun with it. Because it’s all for fun. What hurts me so much is when a fan boos a player. You boo a player just like that because he may make an error or make a mistake. But if the same ballplayer makes an error or makes a mistake, he may be the same player who gets the hit to win the game. If you boo him, then he made up for it, but then you feel guilty, because you shouldn’t have boo’d him. So you should never boo a player. Cheer ’em up! Cheer ’em up! Keep ’em up! Keep ’em up! Let them know that you’re there for them. They come to Wrigley Field and there are 35,000 people cheering for you. It helps a lot. You think a little faster, look at the pitcher a little more, swing a little faster… it means a lot to have the 10th man out there.

SW: How would you feel if the Cubs ever won the World Series?

R: If the Cubs ever won a World Series, I would like for whoever is running the Cubs to invite everybody what has played for the Cubs in his life on the field the day before the World Series and let them come on the field. And once they come on, we should congratulate them. We’re doing this for the guys in the past. We’re playing now, but you guys opened the door for us to play now. You guys retired, but this is our turn now. This is for you guys and then let’s play ball.

SW: Who is your favorite Cubs player?

R: I like anybody with the Cubs uniform on. I’ll cheer for ’em.

SW: Do you think the Cubs will ever win the World Series?

R: This year and the year after, back to back. It’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter. It’ll be OK.

SW: What do you do in the off-season to support the Cubs?

R: I go the ballpark and take pictures. And I pass the schedules out to people to keep their mind on the game. I know the seconds, the minutes and the hours of the day of the week until the next game.

SW: I know you’ve been through a lot of struggle in your life, ever since you were a little boy. You struggled in school quite a bit. Tell me about that experience.

R: You know, I only went to the fourth grade. And at that time they called us the under-graded room, which was known as the dummy room. That’s what they called it back in the 50’s. I stayed in that class for three years and I graduated when I was 17 years old and I couldn’t go to high school because it’s not like you can just go to high school when you’re so old. But my grandmother told me, “God’s got something else for you to do. It’s a wonder what God has for you… he may want you to do a mission or lead people, guide people. You never know. Just keep thinking good thoughts and good things will come to you.”

SW: Do you believe your grandmother was right? Is this your mission?

R: Yes, absolutely. I’m the grandfather of the bleachers [and] of the ballpark.

SW: I know you have a home now, but in your past, how did you become homeless?

R: I was never married, but I met this girl on the train one day. We just got to talking and we stayed together for about 10 years from that moment. Her name was Anita. Then one day [in 1984] I came home to find that she’d passed away… later, they found out it was liver failure. Then two months after that, my grandmother passed away.

SW: That must have been awful…

R: Yes, it was. After Anita passed away, I just left everything right there. I had an apart- ment and I remember going out the back door and out the back stairs. Nothing mat- tered anymore. And then I got laid off from my job at Northwestern University. I was doing janitorial work at the time. I just lost everything. I was homeless from that mo- ment until about 1990. I just missed Anita so much.

SW: What kept you from losing hope?

R: What kept me going during that time was that the Cubs did good. They won their first division title since 1945 and, at that time, people came from all over and I remember climbing up on the NBC truck and shouting, “Woo! Sandberg! Woo! Sandberg!” And there was so much joy that it made me forget what was going on in my real life.

SW: How did you recover?

R: I kept going to the ballgames and then the people really helped, supporting me. But people never knew what I was going through. I didn’t want to trouble them. I would go to the YMCA and take a shower and I would go to the thrift store and buy pants and blue jeans and people would invite me to their house. Sometimes I had a place to stay, but I would sleep on the train all night sometimes and ride from one end to the other. I never thought I would live like that.

SW: How did you get off the street?

R: In 1987, I took a job at Gino’s North up on Granville delivering pizza and cleaning up the restaurant. I was trying to get off the street and get my life together. I worked there and I would also sometimes sleep in a booth there. And then one day at a Cubs event, I met Janet Tabit who helped get me set up in the Windale Hotel and taught me how to manage my money. And then I started selling StreetWise and was able to save money from that, too. Now I live in a city assisted building at Division and LaSalle.

SW: Now that it seems like you’ve gotten your life back, what is your main priority?

R: My main priority is to help take care of my daughter. In 1991, I met a woman named Patty and we stayed together for about nine years before we broke up. We had our daughter, Yolanda, together. She’s 17 now and she’s going to graduate high school next June. I still work janitorial jobs and vend StreetWise now and then. And I try to save money from what I’m paid doing appearances, because I want to set her up for college as much as I can. She wants to go into radio and broadcast.

SW: It seems like baseball was a cure for you…

R: My grandma once told me, if you think about something and you see it in the movies, then do it for yourself. If there’s something you really want to do, you can do it if you put your mind to it. They listen for my song. “Cubs! Woo! Cubs! Woo!” And they say it’s not a baseball game without me. I guess I’ve become sort of a landmark around Wrigley Field. I’m here now and it’s all about baseball.

SW: How big of a role has God played in your life?

R: I have faith in the Lord and Jesus Christ and I ask God to help me. I tell God, I don’t want to go where I want to go… I want to go where He wants me to go. And he led me here.

SW: Is God a Cubs fan?

R: God’s everybody’s fan.

SW: I understand that after years of campaigning, you were finally able to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in 2005. What was that experience like?

R: It was great. I was the first regular fan to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. I’ll never forget it. I love baseball and I love the Cubs. The Cubs really kept me alive. If it wasn’t for the Cubs, I’d probably be passed on by now. You know, there was a lot of gang activity going on in my neighborhood growing up, and the Cubs games were my escape. The Cubs helped me tremendously. And the park was built in 1914 and I was born in 1941, so we have something in common… just turn the numbers around.

SW: What do you think is in the future for the Cubs?

R: This year, with the new General Manager and new staff, I’m getting ready to play ball and to win the World Series.

SW: Is there anything you’d like to say to the Cubs organization?

R: I want to thank them for the love of baseball and the love of the Cubs. Where would I be without them? And they can’t trade me and they can’t fire me, so I will be here until God calls me. But right now, I’m looking forward to the 2012 season and beyond that… we’re going to get to the World Series. And I want to thank the Ricketts and all them guys who are putting things together for a championship in Chicago. I will be alive when they do it and I want to be the first one to congratulate them and thank them for the World Series.

Written by Brittany Langmeyer
StreetWise Staff

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