The last time I ran into Robin Ficker, he was waving a Maryland flag and yelling wrestling cheers in verse at a Terps dual meet.
“Who are you?” one Maryland wrestler asked the loudest fan he had ever encountered, right around that time. “Who sent you? What book did you fall out of?”
Indeed, while he still surfaced in political stories, the Montgomery County lawyer had mostly dropped out of the sports pages in recent years. The most famous heckler in Washington sports history gave up his Bullets season tickets after the team moved from Maryland to the District. He gave up his Redskins season tickets after that team shoveled piles of money at Albert Haynesworth. And he hadn’t been a regular at D.C. baseball games since the days of Griffith Stadium.
But the 2012 Nats brought him back, and so Ficker went to a Nationals-Yankees game over Father’s Day weekend, sitting close enough to loudly inform the visitors that “they were gonna find out who their daddy was.”
And while that promise didn’t come true, there was Ficker at Thursday’s Rays game with a few choice words for Tampa skipper Joe Maddon.
See, the Joel Peralta pine tar story was still swirling, and Ficker — sitting in Section 117 Row K, near the Rays’ dugout — spent the first few innings staying on message. He told the visitors not to “Tampa” with the ball. He asked Maddon if he was going to “stick” to his game plan. He made repeated pine tar references, earning several backward glances from the Rays’ manager.
Finally, in the third inning, Maddon flipped a baseball into the stands, intended for Ficker. When another fan wound up with the ball, Maddon pointed to his target, the 69-year lawyer wearing polka-dot shorts and a Maryland wrestling t-shirt covered with an image of Bryce Harper’s face.
“Stick up for those you care about!” read the message on the ball, which had been smeared with pine tar.
“I think everyone was kind of shocked,” said Channing Pejic, a 21-year-old Nats fan sitting nearby, who quickly alerted me to this developing story. “After Joe Maddon threw that ball up, it went from irritating to hilarious.”
When I posted about the incident on my blog, a few commenters were critical of Ficker’s routine, or at least his volume. But Ficker has a ready retort to such charges.
“They keep putting signs up saying ‘Let’s make some noise!’; I was just trying to accommodate the Nats,” he told me with a chuckle. “I mean, this isn’t the Kennedy Center. It’s not a ballet recital. It’s a ballgame. The Yankees fans weren’t too shy, and the Tampa fans the same. I felt like I was counter-balancing some of those folks.”
In his Cap Centre heyday, of course, Ficker was well known to visiting players. Charles Barkley presented him with basketballs, and John Salley told Bleacher Report he was the “heckler of all hecklers.” But that isn’t the word Ficker would choose.
“You use the word heckle — to me, it’s just normal speech,” Ficker told me. “You don’t have to sit there mute. That’s just normal conversation you would say to [Maddon] at a cocktail party if you ran into him. It just seemed like topical conversation to me.”
In any case, Ficker clearly has Natitude, so don’t be surprised if you see him behind the visitors’ dugout again. In fact, he already has plans to be at Nats Park on July 5, when San Francisco visits.
“I’m looking forward to talking to some of the Giants about how they’re doing,” he noted.
He’ll abide by his longstanding code of conduct, which includes no profanity and no alcohol. And Pejic — who was sitting near an intoxicated and profane fan on Thursday night — said those things work in Ficker’s favor.
“I’d rather sit next to someone who’s really loud than someone who’s drunk and nasty,” he told me. “I’d rather have someone yelling random things about pine tar.”
James Wagner contributed to this report.