Ed Lucas hasn't missed an opening day at Yankee Stadium in 51 years. He is a sports reporter covering a game he cannot see.
Ed lost his sight on Oct. 3 1951, on a legendary day in baseball history — the day Bobby Thomson launched the Shot Heard Round the World.
“My father was sitting there, actually with his rosary beads in his hand, praying,” Lucas said.
And what was he praying for? For his beloved New York Giants to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were watching baseball's first nationally televised game. Bottom of the ninth. Bobby Thomson at the plate. Next thing they all heard was announcer Russ Hodges shouting “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
“My father jumped up,” Lucas remembered. “He was screaming. I was screaming.”
Lucas then ran outside to celebrate — a 12-year-old twirling to TV cheers. He fired a fastball to a friend with a bat.
“The line drive came back and — boom — hit me right between the eyes,” Lucas said of the hit, which destroyed his retinas. “It was the end of the world. What could a blind person do? That was my biggest fear.”
The next year Lucas enrolled at St. Joseph, a boarding school for the blind in New Jersey. One snowy afternoon, his dad showed up to take him home for the weekend. When his father knelt down to help Lucas put on a pair of galoshes, a nun stopped him.
“She said, ‘He's only blind. He's not handicapped. He can put them on himself. And when he puts them on himself, you can leave!’ and an hour and half later, we left,” Lucas recalled.
Lucas was determined to stay close to the game he loved. But memories only take you so far. Soon he had two young sons to raise, after an early marriage failed and his wife left.
To Lucas’ sons, their father seemed to have super human powers.
“He used to be able to turn off the lights and we'd sit in bed and he would read to us with the lights out,” said son Chris Lucas.
A new career
Yankee Stadium became their second home, while dad did feature stories for New Jersey radio stations.
It took years for Lucas to learn how to cover baseball without the benefit of his eyesight. It was difficult to learn new ballparks. But players helped. Former Mets right fielder Ron Swoboda, once interrupted Lucas’ questions to ask one of his own.
Swoboda asked him if anyone had ever described Shea Stadium to him. “And he said, ‘Let's take a walk,’ ” Lucas said. Swoboda walked him out to the outfield and described what he could see. “And he said, ‘Put your hand out.’ And I felt the wall.” Along with Swoboda’s kindness.
Despite the injury that caused his blindness, Lucas holds no ill will against the great American pastime.
“Well, baseball took my sight, but baseball also gave me — a life,” Lucas said. As well as another chance at love.
Yankee Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto set up a happy ending. He introduced Lucas to Allison Pfeifle, a fan with failing sight. Lucas helped her with the slow business of learning how to live a new way.
“I think we talked on the phone maybe a good five to six years,” Pfeifle said. “Then one day, he came into the flower shop [where Pfeifle worked].”
They started dating. Lucas took her to the movies.
“I can hear what's going on,” Lucas said. “When they're not talking, I know they're either walking or kissing. I can usually figure that out for myself.”
Lucas admits when it came to Pfeifle, it was love at … well, you get the point.
“He's my Prince Charming,” Pfeifle said.
They got married this spring in a fairy-tale place — Yankee Stadium. Lucas stood where his heroes have all stood — home plate. As always, his sons were at his side.
“He had to go through a very dark winter being blind, and go through that as a 12 year old,” Chris Lucas said. “But he's had a great spring, a great summer and now in the fall, he's going to have a lot of fun.”
Yankee Stadium holds a lot of special memories, but none like this — the day a blind man stepped to the plate and won the game of life.