Dr. Robert Hickerson saw a lot of Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field during that infamous 1969 season. And he's seen even more since.

Dr. Robert Hickerson saw a lot of Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field during that infamous 1969 season.

The Knoxville, Ill., physician, now semi-retired, had bottles of champagne on ice in the stadium parking lot in Miami in 2003, waiting to celebrate the Cubs clinching the National League pennant.

Like a lot of us, Hickerson knows heartache, but for the 39th straight season, he’ll be at Wrigley Field today for the season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers. It feeds an addiction that began when he saw his first Cubs game in 1944 at age 11.

“I think this is one of the best teams they’ve ever had,” he said. “At least I think it is."

Hickerson gained some nationwide fame recently when a photograph of him passing a bottle of Drambuie at a pregame tailgate party appeared in a book by photographer Tammy Lechner titled “Our Team, Our Dream” a collection of photos depicting the team and its fans over a 15-year span starting in 1993.

But among die-hard fans here, Hickerson has been famous for years for his devotion to the Cubs and his generosity.

For a stretch of 15 years, he took an entourage of Galesburg-area fans to the home opener that included family, his office staff, nurses from the local hospitals and their spouses. They all gathered for a pregame tailgate party across the street from Murphy’s Bleachers.

“I used go  to Wrigley Field to get tickets when you had to buy them at the ballpark and stand in line,” Hickerson said. “Then when Ticketmaster came, the day they went on sale, I would have my nurses at the office dial in so we could get opening-day tickets.”

That was before he discovered he could buy group tickets if he bought more than 20. The group grew to as many as 75 people and would probably still be going today if not for a change in Cubs’ ticket policies a few years ago.

“The Cubs cut us off and wouldn’t sell them to us anymore,” Hickerson said. “That’s when they started selling out the season, and I don’t know, they probably thought I was scalping them or something.”

But that didn’t put a dent in his devotion.

“I still go to opening day, but I get my tickets on the Internet,” he said. “The $20 seats I got cost me $80.”

Hickerson’s personal highlight reel of Cubs games attended is rich and colorful. It includes seeing Jackie Robinson play in the late 1940s, Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit in the late 1950s, the first night game at Wrigley, the 1969 home opener won by Willie Smith’s extra-inning homer and Tuffy Rhoades’ three-homer game in an opener in the mid-1990s.

“When I started going, people wore suits — coats and ties,” said Hickerson, 73.

Hickerson’s son, Steve, also earned a page in “Our Team, Our Dream”, waving from a window on Waveland Avenue in an apartment he rented facing Wrigley Field in 1993.

Steve Hickerson then moved to Florida where his dad and mom, Sally, traveled in 2003 to join him to watch the Cubs play the Marlins in another infamous series. Tickets were a lot easier to get in Miami.

Hickerson still has some of that champagne he bought in Miami.

And there was a reason he drinks the Drambuie at every opener. The label reads “A link with the ‘45” (actually 1745), which Cubs fans interpret to mean 1945, the year of the team’s last World Series appearance.

Like millions, Hickerson soon hopes to toast in 2008.

“If they don’t have any injuries and some of them have career years, they can do it,” Hickerson said. “If some things happen, maybe this is going to be the year they get in.”

The Register-Mail