As COVID-19 has taken the globe by storm, the bustling world we live in has ground to a screeching, jarring halt. For us diehards, one of the most challenging transitions has been the cessation of professional sports. Both the NBA and MLB are on hiatus, leaving fanatics with only an unhealthy addiction to the start of the NFL league year. With each new rumor, pending transaction, and mock draft, comes a new high - delusional visions of a Cardinals future where Larry has a ring and we stand atop Lombardi mountain in triumphant glory.
Still, the sheer enormity of this global pandemic dulls the clarity of that vision. There are growing rumblings that the NFL draft may be postponed, throwing cold water on the burning desire for that next bit of breaking news. The coronavirus has rightly upset societal norms, and brought with it a more intense focus on individuals, public health, and the general coexistence of humanity.
A few weeks ago, my family took a long-scheduled trip to Disneyland that serves as the backdrop for these musings. This story is a bit Fanpost, a bit human perspective. It's an analysis of the fleeting surety that surrounds professional athletes, American strongholds, and the world at large.
For months, we eagerly awaited that last weekend in February. After a year of endless work, schooling, child rearing, and toiling - we desperately needed a break. We'd agonized over the right time to go, comparing calendars with California spring break schedules and working around my wife's inflexible professional obligations. After extensive Googling, we landed on six days that provided the magic combination of good weather, low crowds, and decent hotel prices.
When our departure day finally arrived, I loaded what seemed like 400 bags into the truck. Once the kids were buckled in with their toys and snacks, I threw on my faithful gray Cardinals hat and embarked on the journey. After 8 hours of bathroom breaks, traffic detours, and Frozen soundtrack singalongs, we arrived at our hotel. Exhausted, we unloaded our stuff and hunkered down for a night of rest before hitting the beach.
Saturday marked our first day at the parks, and we chose California Adventure - because let's be honest, Disneyland on a Saturday is about as much fun as a lobotomy on Anyday. With our predetermined mixture of fast passes and ride preferences, we zipped through the crowds and enjoyed a Pixar-themed, jam-packed day.
Still, the main course was reserved for Sunday and Monday. I was never a big fan of Disneyland until I saw it through the eyes of my firstborn. There is something truly magical about experiencing sheer, unabashed happiness through a child's perspective. Our last trip to Disney, however, had ended rather disappointingly with my wife's ruptured eardrum and at least 12 rounds through the Pooh Honey Pots with my (then) 3-year old.
"Not this time," said I. "We're going to have a great trip, dammit!"
As a marginal Star Wars nerd, the "Rise of the Resistance" had just opened and promised to be the single most exciting addition to Disneyland since... well, Disneyland. My excitement that morning was palpable, prompting me to get my entire family out the door for the shuttle at 7 AM. For those not in the know, the queuing system is such that you must reserve a boarding group within seconds of the park opening. If your app doesn't update timely, or your fingers don't work fast enough, you're likely to lose your shot.
We made it into the park on Sunday about two minutes before the boarding passes unlocked - and having done ample research ahead of time, I felt well equipped to battle the 15,000 other people who had arrived early for the same purpose. In an effort to not beleaguer the point, I'll just say we got 4 passes, and I ended up getting to ride TWICE. (Without spoiling anything, the ride was the most awe-inspiring feat of theme park engineering I've ever seen. SERIOUSLY, you need to check it out. It's basically 15 minutes of nerdy splendor.)
Fast forward to the waning hours of our second day on Monday, and our family had Pirated, Astro-Blasted, and Splashed our way to infinity and beyond. After three straight days of theme parking, however, we were feeling that familiar lull that accompanies family vacation overload. We took in the matinee parade, and decided to hop aboard the Jungle Cruise.
At this point, I'm sure you're asking yourself… "Ag832, when does this story go from a personal recounting of a family vacation into a Cardinals Fanpost? Your family sounds infinitely awesome and your trip is a melancholic reminder of the daily stupor that accompanies my 9-5 job, but this is a football site. Where's the pigskin?"
Well, my fellow fanatics... I'm so glad you asked.
For anyone who has been here for a hot minute, you know I love me some puns. I once crafted diss raps in comment sections based entirely around the surnames of current players. The Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite rides for the sheer dad-pun glory. Truthfully, though, I was just glad to sit down and enjoy a quiet jaunt over water to cool down and relax after 20+ hours on foot.
I looked up to an unfamiliar face uttering a very familiar phrase.
My faithful Cardinals hat had donned my awkwardly large dome each day of the trip, and I was genuinely shocked to find anyone else that would openly profess their Red Sea fandom atop a river of Rams, Raiders, and Niners fans. Something seemed unique about this one, though - as if there was a deeper story to tell on this humorously topical boat.
Panning to the left, I spotted a very large man seated directly next to my newly discovered stranger friend. In a millisecond, I put the face with a name - I was sitting across from Ricky Seals-Jones. As I scanned further, I found a second familiar visage, but I couldn't place the name. (Thanks, Interwebz, for later confirming that this was none other than Fresno State standout KeeSean Johnson.)
"Babe," I nudged. "We are sitting directly across from NFL players! I know these guys!" My wife whispered her feigned excitement back and prodded me to say hello. After all, how often do you meet professional sportsballers doing completely normal human things?
I respectfully declined, choosing instead to bask in the glory of knowing that I was probably one of 5 people in the entire park who could've picked their unassuminl faces out of a crowd. Here I was, hanging out on a FRIGGIN' BOAT with two guys that had suited up for my favorite team. As an amateur Fanpost writer, a purveyor of all things pun, and a family man who enjoys sharing awesome experiences with my loved ones, I had hit the proverbial jackpot aboard a rickety paddleboat in the middle of an artificial jungle.
So why didn't I say anything? Well, I have this deep-seated desire to leave people, famous or not, undisturbed in their natural habitat. While this is for another Fanpost, I had a similar run-in with Paul Goldschmidt in north Phoenix at a winter light extravaganza, just three days before he was shipped off to St. Louis. Goldy's son was playing in the same moon bounce as mine, and while I was freaking out internally, it just didn't feel right to interrupt his family time with some poorly worded nonsense about forgetting my pocket baseball and Sharpie in my other jeans. These are just some normal dudes out enjoying their offseason, spending time with their friends and family. While my fandom knows essentially no bounds, I understand there must be some need for anonymity and normalcy in a world where your entire career is on display.
Thus, I left them alone. I walked away with the knowledge that I had just cruised the jungle with some professional athletes, keeping my social distance two weeks before social distancing was cool. It was a pretty incredible bookend to a pretty incredible vacation.
The Here and Now
Fast forward a few weeks, and Disneyland has closed its' doors for only the fourth time ever. The Olympics are postponed, most professional sports are shut down, and life looks a whole lot different. That carefree trip has been replaced with anxiety about doorknobs, each new sneeze feeling like a personal affront. I'm not even supposed to travel 100 miles from my house per my employer's instructions, and that glorious vacation from just a few weeks ago would be literally impossible today.
Professional athletes are not immune to these issues, yet we often treat their careers as some form of transactional business deal - their worth measured by on-field performance alone. But I can't help but think about the humans behind those statistics, and the worth I have assigned to my fellow man through YAC's or TD's. This is a challenging time, no doubt, but it's a great opportunity to reevaluate those things that are really important.
The DeAndre Hopkins trade caused me to literally shout for joy in my home office, but also saddened me as it meant the departure of DJ2K. Sure, his skills have diminished and his performance left much to be desired after that fat contract - but that man talked to my son for a minute or so after signing a football for him at a training camp practice, and for a brief moment, I caught a glimpse of the man behind the mask.
So what really matters to me in the age of COVID-19? That these athletes we judge, adore, love, belittle, cheer, jeer, and discard are healthy and safe. That their families are getting copious amounts of the men. That my family is being enriched by our forced hermitry… hermititude… hermitocity?
We fans can do with a little less statistical analysis and comment board bickering, and a lot more human perspective.
As I sit here now, I breathe a bit easier knowing that our family cleared the dreaded 2-week incubation period of a deadly virus after running around in America's largest cultural petri dish. With an asthmatic son who would likely face heightened responses to such an illness, I am thankful for every day that he wakes up healthy - or at all.
In the leadup to the draft, I'm trying to remember what really is important. I will ride incognito with my Jungle Cruise friends into the abyss, cheering for my Cards until the last breath is wrung forcefully from my lungs - be it through virulent contagions or old age. My fandom is not being set aside, nor are my expectations for future glory. But those bastions of American life, the Disney's and NFL's of the world, are under assault from a most unexpected nuisance.
So be kind. Be intentional. Consider the men behind those masks. Hold your loved ones tight, savor the good and the bad, and embrace the certainty of uncertainty. Every botched draft pick, lopsided trade, extreme DUI, and non-tendered RFA has a human toll. We are all imperfect people in an imperfect world, and the prescience of a sublime trip to Disneyland has met the stark contrast of a world yearning for toilet paper and ventilators.
In essence, don't forget that we're all human. We're collectively going stir crazy in our homes, wondering what life will look like post-contagion. Cherish those things that are important to you, allow some perspective to take hold, and go forth into the world a better fan.