Cardinals' Budda Baker uses alias to go unnoticed in public. On the field, he’s hard to miss
Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker is a self-proclaimed introvert.
Last week, he inconspicuously walked into a Phoenix-area bar by himself. Baker found a place to sit and even used an alias to go unrecognized.
“I didn’t really meet some friends, but I had a few conversations and I talked to a couple people. My name was James. It was cool. I had a good time,” Baker said smiling. “It was pretty dark in there. I just walked in there and sat by myself.”
Baker even had a predetermined fictitious profession picked out in case someone asked what he did for a living. However, the conversations didn’t get that far.
“If they would’ve asked my profession, I probably would’ve said I’m a dentist or something like that,” Baker said Monday during OTAs.
He was able to keep a low-profile at the bar but won't be able to hide much longer.
The Cardinals will feature in the popular HBO docuseries "Hard Knocks" this season, where fans will see Baker and his teammates in an exclusive behind-the-scenes series.
“We’re thrilled that the Cardinals will be joining the roster of teams that have graciously invited our audiences into their world,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, co-heads of HBO Documentary and Family Programming, said in a statement.
It’s the first time the Cardinals will be included in the docuseries.
“That’s once in a lifetime you get to be on national television,” Baker said. “It’s definitely a great experience. I’m definitely excited for that. Just excited for that opportunity to be on that stage.”
The 5-foot-10 safety is also preparing for a bigger leadership role as one of the franchise’s cornerstone players. Arizona saw multiple veteran leaders depart in recent years: cornerback Patrick Peterson, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and, most recently, pass rusher Chandler Jones. Their exits created a void but also a window of opportunity for other players to assume the role.
“He’s played at a Pro Bowl and All-Pro level since I’ve been here. Just watching him develop as a leader and emerge as that guy … He’s definitely embraced that role,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Baker. “The way he works, the way he takes care of himself and handles his business — those younger guys, he’s a great role model for them to look to.”
Baker’s expanded role is already taking shape. Multiple Cardinals players did not attend voluntary OTAs this week, including starting quarterback Kyler Murray, but Baker decided it was important for him to attend.
Despite his reserved personality away from football, Baker embraces a different role around his teammates.
“I’m a camaraderie type of person — understanding people’s personalities, what they like to do off the field, exchange numbers and talk a little football, that type of stuff. That’s what, personally, I like to do,” Baker said. “Now that I’m one of the leaders on this team, I definitely want to do that because it helps the younger guys kind of want to get a head start before training camp and all that stuff starts."
As training camp approaches, Baker’s starting safety position is already set, and he’s expanded his role as a leader and face of Arizona’s defense.
Those factors, combined with HBO cameras coming to town, might make it difficult for Baker to go incognito at Phoenix bars much longer.
Follow USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insider Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.