What a difference a year has made.
On March 15, 2020, I was undergoing a cardiac catheterization at Penn Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. It turned out I not only have a heart, but it was working just fine.
It also marked the first day the hospital did not allow visitors due to concern over a new virus named COVID-19. When I was cleared to leave, I headed outside, where my wife and sister-in-law were waiting in the car.
Over the course of the next few months, so many parts of my life and world were altered, postponed and canceled. Masks were no longer reserved for Halloween. Hugs and handshakes were replaced by fist bumps and elbow taps. Birthday parties were drive-by affairs. Local high schools were denied the opportunity to play for state championships. Atlantic City boxing rings and mixed martial arts cages were empty, as were casino concert venues.
Finally, there is a glimmer of hope. Now that I'm two weeks removed from receiving my second COVID-19 vaccine — huge props to the National Guard and medical staff at the Atlantic City Convention Center for their help and support — it appears as if life is returning to at least a semblance of normal.
Hopefully, it will allow me to experience and enjoy a few things I missed during the pandemic.
• I'd love to be able to take my two young grandsons, Hampton (5) and Graham (almost 3) to their first Phillies game this summer at Citizens Bank Park. Despite having covered the Eagles for 27 seasons, baseball remains my favorite sport. It's been that way since I was a kid and dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium to see the Phillies play Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants in the summer of 1967.
• Last Sunday's breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House in North Cape May marked our first indoor dining experience in four months. Karen and I also joined two other couples for dinner at Alfie's in Wildwood on Tuesday evening. We enjoyed dining outside at various local establishments such as Uncle Bill's in Cape May, the Washington Inn, On the Rocks, and Harbor View throughout the summer and fall, but chilly weather and a resurgence in the virus in late November restricted us to ordering takeout. Cape May and Atlantic counties are home to some of the best eateries in the country, and it will be nice to actually sit and enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner somewhere besides tray tables in our living room.
At some point, maybe Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah's Atlantic City, Hard Rock Atlantic City and other casinos will be able to bring back their buffets.
• Karen and I have seen some amazing concerts over the years, including the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow, the Eagles, James Taylor, Santana. Karen also gets a kick out of seeing Barry Manilow, though I've managed to avoid joining her. But we haven't been to a show since we enjoyed Straight No Chaser at Ocean Casino Hotel in December 2019. We'd love to be able to rock and maybe even roll to some live music.
There has been some progress on the casino front. I've been able to play a few hands of three-card poker in the last couple of months at Borgata and Ocean. All of the properties have done an amazing job of making patrons feel safe with their protocols, which include a multitude of hand sanitizing stations and the installation of plexiglass barriers between seats at the tables.
But wearing masks and sitting inside cubicles has robbed me of hearing the funny and/or heartwarming stories that I often get to hear while playing. One day a few years back, a buddy and I were sitting with two women and an elderly gentleman. The conversation turned to marriage and the old guy revealed that he had been married 60 years.
"It feels like yesterday," he said. "And you know what a lousy day yesterday was."
Getting off the canvas
• A year has passed since I was sitting ringside for a fight. There hasn't been a boxing or MMA event in New Jersey since March 7, 2020, when Atlantic City super-middleweight Gabriel Pham and Somers Point middleweight Isiah Seldon earned victories on a boxing card at Bally's Atlantic City.
The drought is scheduled to end next month. The Professional Fighters League will hold its six-card regular season at Ocean's Ovation Hall starting April 23. There's a good chance women's boxing world champion Claressa Shields will be making her MMA debut on one of the shows. Cage Fury Fighting Championships is also expected to return to Hard Rock at some point this summer.
Now we need boxing to come back. Local fighters such as Pham, Seldon and Thomas LaManna have been forced to fight in Los Angeles and Mexico in recent months. Let's hope Bally's, Hard Rock and Ocean will soon be bringing fights back to their properties.
Row, row, row your boat
• Lifeguard racing is a South Jersey tradition that dates back decades.
It's as much a part of summer in these parts as seagulls hunting for French Fries, hearing "Wa ... Wa. ... Watch the Tramcar Please" on the Wildwood Boardwalk, and watching the sunset at the Cove in Cape May.
In 2003, when Sports Illustrated celebrated its 50th anniversary by profiling one sport per state, lifeguard racing was the pick for New Jersey. Beach patrols Long Beach Island to Cape May Point compete in events featuring swimming, rowing, paddleboarding and my personal favorite, the surf dash.
Unfortunately, the pandemic beached those events last summer.
Some of the events are especially special to me. Attending the SuperAthalon usually means climbing aboard a Cape May Beach Patrol vehicle for a ride along Beach Drive during the 2.3-mile run, jumping out at Poverty Beach to watch the start of the 1.5-mile row, then getting back to Cannone Beach in time to watch competitors navigate the tricky current during the quarter-mile swim.
The South Jersey Lifeguard Championships are steeped in tradition. Generations of lifeguards have competed in the race, which is watched by thousands of fans.
Longport made history in 2019. Led by swimmer Joey Tepper, it became the first beach patrol to win four straight team titles since the current format — doubles row, swim, singles row — was established in 1973.
Hopefully, they'll get a chance to make it five straight this summer.
David Weinberg's columns can also be found on his Dave Weinberg Extra Points Facebook page and blog, as well as on 973ESPN.com. His podcast, Dave Weinberg's Tequila and Touchdowns, can be heard on Anchor, Facebook and Twitter. You can also hear him 5:10 p.m. every Tuesday at Newstalk 1400-AM WOND and WONDRadio.com on Off the Press with Scott Cronick. His Weinberg Wednesday segment airs at 6:15 p.m. weekly on 97.3-FM ESPN.