Got a call early this afternoon from Rick Fisher, my teammate in the old guy's league. A mutual friend of ours, Gary Columbo, passed away and his funeral was today.
I couldn't believe it. Stunned would be a good word.
Gary was on our show three weeks ago. A master storyteller, I loved having Gary on the show to talk baseball and hear his stories. His appearances on the show were well received, especially during winter when people are missing baseball and impatiently waiting for spring to arrive.
Gary died on Sunday morning of a heart attack at the age of 66. There was nothing in the paper or online so I just heard the news today.
Fish reached me in time so I could make the 3:15 funeral at Fort Logan National Cemetery here in Denver, about an hour from my home. Gary was a veteran and proudly served his country. The service was short but nice with a three gun salute and taps. Fort Logan National Cemetery is a very solemn place. I looked around at the thousands of headstones of the people who served this country. If you don't get emotional visiting this place then there is something dramatically wrong. Although a New Yorker through and through, this historic Colorado cemetery is the perfect final resting spot for Gary.
About 30 people were there to pay their final respects on a nice, warm, sunny 60-degree day. There would have been many more people in attendance if the news spread faster. I'm grateful Fish called me.
After a brief minor league career, Gary, a catcher, played adult baseball for years. He also was a long time manager. I never played for him but I would have liked to. Some of his former teammates were at the funeral and one gentleman showed up in a Yankees jersey. Gary, a diehard Yankees fan would have liked that. It was a thoughtful gesture. I also had the chance to meet his daughter and his longtime girlfriend as well as a few other friends of Gary. It was nice but it would have been better to meet them under different circumstances.
I first met Gary at the broadcasting school in town several years ago where we taught and crossed paths on many occasions. One summer day, about three years ago, around noon, we were leaving the school together and decided to grab lunch. We went to Arby's and had roast beef sandwiches. We talked baseball and had a great time. I glanced at my watch and said, "Holy shit Gary, it's 5 o'clock. I have to get to Coors Field." I thought it was around 2. It was one of my favorite lunches ever and I'll never forget it.
In addition to his love of baseball, Gary was a singer, a writer, a broadcaster and all around good guy. He had a sharp sense of humor and was quick with a laugh or quip. Being a New Yorker, he also wasn't afraid to express his opinion. For example, he didn't like the way things were being run at the broadcast school and let his thoughts be known to "management" there. Instead of embracing Gary's wisdom, that was the end of Gary teaching at the school. He wasn't a "yes" man and was more concerned with the students learning than playing games with the idiot who runs the school. He stuck to his principles and the school and students missed out on having Gary as an instructor.
The last I saw Gary was two weeks ago. We had lunch at a place called Jus' Grill in Aurora. This lunch only lasted two hours. We talked about his radio show and of course baseball. He also gave me a book, a baseball novel called "All The Stars Came Out That Night." I haven't read it yet but I will. Gary just handed me the book and said, "I thought you'd like this. Keep it."
I will certainly keep the book. It now has added sentimental value to me.
I'm glad and honored to have known Gary. But I'm really bummed out. Gary was a good friend and I'll miss him.