The following is based -- pretty closely -- on a true story. The names have not been changed because, frankly, they didn't have to be. Be sure to catch the newest video episode of Folktales when it debuts at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Cardinals YouTube channel.
The afternoon was overcast as I sat at my desk, hoping rain would eventually pelt the window but knowing it never would, and there was a knock at the door.
The man introduced himself as J. Scott Gavin, and he had a story to tell. And if there was anything I could do it was write a story. The whole thing felt a little Interview With A Vampire-ish, although Gavin was not a vampire, just a musician, wearing a T-shirt repping his band (The Thieves About) and talking about his past.
That past had been as Big Red's handler for more than a decade from 2001-2011, a lifetime ago. "Big Red, the Cardinals' mascot?" I asked. "What else would it be?" Gavin replied.
There were thousands of appearances with Big Red over his decade-plus, but it was a 2004 incident that was burned into Gavin's brain. That was the story he wanted to tell.
"I remember it vividly," Gavin said, and how could he not, when he was talking about his bright red Chevy Tahoe with sparkly rims as he pulled into the parking lot of the Cardinals' Tempe complex one January morning. He was taking Big Red to a Special Olympics event that day, and he had time to kill. Checking emails and doing some paperwork was the goal, but as he approached the front door, a co-worker convinced him to walk across the street and get a snack at the QT gas station.
This, I thought, wouldn't turn out well.
"When we came out of the QT, I noticed the truck was gone," Gavin said.
No. It did not turn out well.
Getting your car stolen affects you in some kind of way, and even all these years later you could see how the moment once shattered Gavin. But there was more than that, more than just the loss of his transportation and the violation of his world. The missing car wasn't just what had made his heart – and stomach – sink. Big Red had been in the back of the car.
"I got really nervous and scared," Gavin said. "All those thoughts, they just start racing around in your brain."
Big Red had been, intentionally or not, birdnapped.