Holy Week has come and gone.
Passover is close to being over.
And now I get the news that Richard Albero, a deeply spiritual man and one of uncommon decency and kindness, has passed away at the age of 70 from the coronavirus.
I never met Albero in person, but I wrote a three-part series on him for the Huffington Post and spoke to him several times over the phone in 2015.
In the spring of that year, Albero, at the age of 65, undertook a roughly 1,200-mile walk from Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
While he had some tough days on the road, Richard Albero never doubted that he could make it. Such was the spiritual strength of the former Navy Reserve officer and graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy, who went on his epic trek to honor the Wounded Warrior Project and his late nephew, Gary, who passed away on 9/11.
Along country roads in the South, Albero encountered more than his share of cows and bulls, a mangy dog with a Southern growl, and a soulful horse, who, as Albero described it to me, stared at the former high school math teacher with what appeared to be the eyes of a human.
In the view of Albero, the horse, an old horse, who had trouble walking, passed on a kind of “strength” to Albero, who took that strength with him on the rest of his walk that day through the South.
When I heard Albero describe such encounters with animals, it struck me how appropriate it was that he would say his prayers every day to St. Francis, revered for his love for animals and the poor, as well as St. Christopher, a protector of travelers.
Albero, who passed away on March 17 in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., did not consider himself to be a devout Catholic, but he was clearly a man who believed in causes greater than himself.
Besides his love for animals, Albero taught math and coached sports for more than 30 years in the New York state area. He loved giving back to others, and he loved to show his appreciation to the people who had enriched his life, such as his three children, Lucia, Felicia and Dante.
But his devotion to his family was never more apparent than when he dedicated his 1,200-mile trek to Gary, his late nephew, who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Albero, who was born in New Jersey but traced his roots to the Bronx, had a wonderful bond with Gary, with whom he drove across the country, often tying in their trips to see their beloved New York Yankees play ball.
While Albero was off on his two and one-half month journey from Tampa to the Bronx, he told me that he talked to himself on the road quite a bit; and he pictured Gary, as well as his mother and father, and his grandparents, “sitting on a cloud.”
“People say I’m nuts,” Albero said of himself.
Albero, who was a huge fan of the Yankees, going back to the days of Mickey Mantle, then mentioned to me that he had heard that I talked to myself, when I played baseball.
He had heard this from my friend, Andrew Levy, who owns a New York-based sports marketing agency, Wish You Were Here Productions. Levy, who represents numerous professional athletes, including David Cone and Goose Gossage, connected Albero to the Yankees, then later raised funds for and promoted Albero’s walk on behalf of Gary and the Wounded Warriors Project.
Levy and I played baseball together in 1978 when we were in 7th grade at Hopkins, a prep school in New Haven, Conn.
We had great times that season, but I had forgotten about the fact that I engaged in an interior monologue at the plate in the late 1970s, back when Reggie Jackson, not Mickey Mantle, was the leading slugger on the Yanks.
I suppose the habit of talking to yourself, one I have done for most of my life, is more common than we realize, and not only in baseball, where Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis immortalized such behavior in the 1988 film, Bull Durham.
Maybe, talking to yourself is a coping strategy.
Maybe, in fact, it paradoxically helped Richard Albero “keep his sanity” on his long walks by himself, as he told me in 2015.
At a time when many of us are living alone, isolated from much of society, it may be that talking to ourselves and to our deceased loved ones can help us get through difficult moments, such as dealing with the coronavirus or the loss of family members.
And maybe, as I have written before, imagination is indeed an evolutionary adaptation that helps us survive the perils and traumas of life.
That could be one of the reasons why Richard Albero was able to endure all those hours alone on the road.
Yes, he had a support driver, and yes, he stayed at a motel every night on the road. But Richard Albero, in walking nearly 1,200 miles over a two and one-half month period, showed not only that he was extraordinarily fit for a man of his age or any age. He also showed that he had a beautiful imagination and a generous soul, both of which flowed from love.
Andrew Levy of Wish You Were Here Productions, who worked so closely with Albero during and after his trek, told me how grateful he was that Albero gave him, “as a token of appreciation for helping him,” a bronzed pair of Albero’s sneakers that he wore during the walk.
Levy said that he “will always cherish” the gift. “I have many significant pieces of memorabilia in my collection, but that very unique item will always have a special place in my heart and serve as a reminder of Richard and his incredible feat!”
Levy added, “As strong as Richard was to persevere and accomplish the goal of his dream walk, this hideous disease shows us it currently can be stronger than the strongest man. It may have taken Richard’s life, but it will never take what he stood for or the type of person he was. Nothing can ever take the life or legacy out of his walk that began with Joe Girardi and the 2015 Yankees sending him off from Tampa and months later greeting him at home plate in the Bronx culminating with a ceremonial first pitch!”
Girardi, who managed the Yankees in 2015 and who is currently the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, also developed a special rapport with Albero. When contacted about Albero’s passing, Girardi said, “Richard was a man who knew life was more about giving than receiving. He spent his whole life giving hope to others of all ages. Richard will truly be missed, but his spirit will live in all the hearts of the people he touched.”
While I am quite saddened by Albero’s passing, I feel honored that I was able to interview him for the Huffington Post during his adventure.
For a former military man, he had a genuine sweetness to him.
In all his years in the military, Richard Albero “never gave out a demerit,” he quipped in 2015.
More seriously, as I wrote in 2015, it “was not enough for him simply to tell the troops, ‘Thank you for your service.’”
Besides going on his 1,200-mile trek, Albero combined his admiration for the troops with his love for animals by training his St. Bernards to be therapy dogs for Wounded Warriors.
This was yet another example of Albero’s altruism, which befitted a man, who said that he always wanted to “do a good deed in honor of their service.”
There is no question that Albero did that, and he was honored by the Bronx Bombers, his favorite team from childhood.
He finished his trek around Memorial Day in 2015 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where he was greeted by the Yankees and by six veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project.
Albero then threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the game, a rare honor and one of his long-sought goals.
He also wrote a book about his journey that was titled, Not Just A Walk in the Park. The book was published in 2019.
Richard Albero lived out his dreams, and I can just imagine him now playing ball in the sky with Gary, his nephew, and sitting on a cloud with his parents and grandparents, talking to them and telling them about his epic quest on behalf of Gary and the Wounded Warriors.
In lieu of flowers at the family’s request, please make a donation to St. Jude’s Hospital using Memorial ID# 11969625 or the Wounded Warrior Project by clicking this link: https://communityfundraising.woundedwarriorproject.org/campaign/RichardJAlbero.