Opening Day Tribute to Rich Freedman

On the phone in early April with an acquaintance of mine who lives in New Hampshire,  he informed me that he wouldn’t be able to talk long because that day was Opening Day of the  baseball season for the New York Yankees. “I’m the same as I’ve always been, totally into the  Yankees,” he said with a laugh, adding that he and his wife were going to watch the game on TV  with other members of their family. 

Opening Day for him and his family was a celebration, as it was for millions of fans  around the country.

But coming so soon after the passing of my friend and journalist colleague  Rich Freedman, my thoughts drifted in a different direction. Rich’s awful kidney cancer  diagnosis came on December 7 of last year; four hard months later death stole him away on  March 30, age 67. 

Rich and I shared many things in common. One of them was a fondness for baseball.  Opening Day for us both signified the promise of spring and the warmer days of summer to come, a brightening of the spirit, a sense of renewal, feelings of optimism and hope.  

This is when I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons for the enduring appeal of  Opening Day is the term itself.

The language of sports is full of openings. The opening kickoff.  The opening drive. The opening serve. Opening Day on the Strait, here in Benicia. Besides  sports, there are so many other openings that we experience in life and do any of them convey  anything other than the promise of good things to come? 

Opening a book. The opening curtain. The box office opens at 11. A gallery opening.  Open house for a new home for sale. The opening act. The opening movement of a symphony. 

Open sesame. Open for business. Open door policy. The value of these things, however, is  considerably reduced unless they are accompanied by openings of a deeper sort: Open eyes. An open mind. An open, accepting heart. 

These last openings, to be honest, I struggle with.

I wish I was more open to different  points of view, different people. Not so reactive, a better listener, not so quick to judge. I’d much  rather have the doors and windows of my life swing fully open, freely and joyfully, although I  recognize that what also blows in through those openings are things that hurt, sadnesses and  hardships and losses of every description. 

If possible I’d love for every day of my life to be Opening Day, an opening day of the  spirit. And I would wish the same for you. 

Rich Freedman was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever known.

He was  beloved by so many because he truly did live life every day as if it were Opening Day. A few  weeks before his death, faltering and ill, he still showed up late at night at a church to hand out  blankets to the homeless, only one of countless acts of caring and compassion he did for people  on a regular, everyday basis. 

The expressions of loss and grief on social media among those who knew him, which  seemed to be everybody, was overwhelming. A standing room only assembly of more than 500  people showed up at his funeral at Northgate Church in Benicia, followed by another large  gathering that same day at a Vallejo community hall. A benefit performance celebrating his life,  featuring a stellar lineup of comedians and musicians, drew a packed house at the Empress  Theatre in May. Through his writing and producing live events, Rich supported the arts every  way possible. 

He had an impish sense of humor, loved goofy jokes and dressing up in costumes and  having fun.

There was an open casket at his funeral and as I said my last goodbyes to him that  day, I thought how wonderful it would be if he would jump up and shout, “Fooled ya, everyone!  It’s all a big practical joke. It’s me, Rich.” 

Godspeed, my friend. May angels sing you to your sleep.