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On Oct. 3, 1951, Ed Lucas raced home from school in Jersey City to see, on the family's new Philco, Bobby Thomson win the pennant for his beloved New York Giants. The 12-year-old then ran outside to celebrate on the sandlot, where he was promptly hit between the eyes by a line drive, a blow that detached both retinas and left him permanently blind.
Ed's mother, he likes to say, was a professional boxer. (She boxed apples and oranges at the A&P warehouse.) That winter Rosanna Lucas marched her deeply depressed son to the American Shops, a Newark men's store, where she introduced him to part-time employee Phil Rizzuto, a Yankees star who befriended the boy.
Rosanna also wrote to Giants manager Leo Durocher about Ed, who asked her to bring her son to the Polo Grounds. "We went on June 14, 1952," Ed says. "My mother waited outside on the centerfield porch because women weren't allowed in the clubhouse. I met Bobby Thomson and all the Giants. Almost every player brought me a bottle of soda. I couldn't drink them all."
That fall Ed enrolled at St. Joseph's School for the Blind, a boarding school in Jersey City, where the nuns demanded that he make his bed and match his clothes. When he walked the strange hallways with his arms out in front of him, Frankenstein-style, his house mother, Sister Anthony Marie, slapped his wrists down to his sides. When he protested that he couldn't see, she said, "Isn't that a shame? We're all in the same boat here. Pick up your oar and start rowing."
In 1962 Ed graduated from Seton Hall with a degree in communication arts, after which he, and his tape recorder, became fixtures in the Shea and Yankee Stadium press boxes. The players he interviewed for sundry New Jersey radio stations and newspapers often interrupted his questions to ask their own. In 1965 Mets rookie Ron Swoboda asked Ed, "Did anyone ever describe this ballpark to you?" Told no, Swoboda took him by the hand and led Ed on a lap around the warning track, where they ran their hands along the outfield wall, reading its contours as if they were written in Braille.
That same year Ed married. Eventually he had two sons, Eddie and Chris. But when the boys were four and two, respectively, Ed's wife, like Ed's Giants, left him forever.
He raised the boys as a blind single parent with superhuman powers. Or so it appeared to Eddie and Chris, who boasted at school that their father could read with the lights out. "I wanted their lives to be as normal as possible," says Ed.
For Eddie and Chris it was not unusual to wake up and see Billy Martin drinking coffee at their kitchen table. Yankee Stadium became the boys' second home. Says Chris, "Huge stars like Mickey Mantle would tell me my dad was their hero."
Many years later Phil Rizzuto was in his local flower shop in Union, N.J., when the florist told him about her niece, Allison Pfeifle, a nurse whose detached retina left her legally blind and no longer able to work as a nurse.
Rizzuto asked Ed if he'd be willing to give Allison a pep talk. Ed and Allison talked on the phone for several years before they met in person. On their first date the two baseball nuts went to Shea Stadium, where Ed introduced Allison to one of his manifold friends, then Dodger Darryl Strawberry.