Baseball remains a favorite American pastime.

Lee Sassi, 101, has experienced pure enjoyment because of the sport. He was born on Aug. 10, 1922 in Star Junction, Pennsylvania.

“I just can’t believe this— all of this happening,” Sassi said, preparing to enter a mini-bus that would transport him to an action-packed adventure. “This is really something.”

Sassi had the opportunity to participate in the ceremonial first pitch on his 101st birthday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. A special day was planned for Sassi to attend the August 10, 2023 game against the Houston Astros. The franchise invited the baseball-loving veteran to come watch ball.

Topps Baseball Cards presented Lee Sassi, a decorated veteran, with his own limited edition player card.
Photo credit: Cissy Nickel

The dedicated fan’s extensive baseball card collection includes every Baltimore Orioles player since the team began playing in Baltimore in 1954.

Gail Conaway, Sassi’s daughter, recalls her hardworking father’s love of baseball. She surprised Sassi by flying in from Alaska to attend her father’s big day.

“As he puts it, when he was growing up, collecting baseball cards was what the kids did,” Conaway said.

Along with her sister, Conaway recalls playing baseball in a large yard where they were reared in Maryland. But Sassi’s love of baseball has touched more than his two daughters over the years. 

“He always had the neighborhood boys in the yard playing with them, too,” Conaway said, mentioning how much her father loved baseball. 

Conaway added that she’s “always online trying to find a [baseball] card” for her father.

Sassi’s baseball binders also include tickets from the 1958 Major League Baseball All-Star Game that was played in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. 

“I love baseball,” Sassi stated. “I loved the players, major leagues. I saved everything when I was a kid.”

Sassi—who now resides at Lighthouse Senior Living in Ellicott City, Maryland—is also a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War. He received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his courage and sacrifice. His employment as a plasterer lasted until he was 40 years old. Sassi later worked for Westinghouse until he retired. 

Despite his noteworthy military service, Sassi is a humble man who happily donned his Orioles hat, keeping “his team” in the limelight on his 101st birthday. 

One person in Sassi’s life brought the loyal Orioles fan who also served honorably in the U.S. military with great distinction to the Orioles’ attention. Cissy Nickel, Lighthouse Senior Living executive director, reached out to the Orioles to share Sassi’s story. After details were ironed out, the spry yet gentle man was in for a baseball lover’s treat. 

Sassi was unafraid to let his inner happiness radiate for all to see while visiting the Orioles franchise. He described his special experience as “hard to believe.”

“I still think it’s a dream,” he said, before planting his feet on the field.

There was no shortage of picture-taking, handshakes and warm greetings. Tim Cossins, one of the Orioles’ coaches, informed Sassi about another surprise, during his special visit.

“There’s something special Topps [Company] baseball has done. I hope this might be your favorite card in time,” Cossins said, handing Sassi a single baseball card. “They made this special for you.”

Sassi was surprised with 101 copies of his own limited-edition player card, compliments of a company that manufactures baseball cards. A photo of Sassi in uniform during World War II appeared on the front of the heartwarming gift.

Sassi chuckled, shuffling through his cards. 

“I don’t believe this,” Sassi said, marveling at his likeness that stared back at him.

Colden, Sassi’s young great-grandson who attended the special celebration along with some of their family members and Lighthouse Senior Living staff, asked his grandfather an important question.

“Can I have an autograph?” Colden said, after Sassi handed a baseball card to him.

“Oh, come on now!” Sassi replied, happily signing it for his buddy.

Both Nickel and Conaway mentioned that Sassi’s baseball card collecting hobby spread to younger family members like Colson.

“Mr. Sassi purchases the entire Topps MLB set each year for his grandson,” Nickel also said.

Cheering staff members who had seen Sassi on television greeted him when he returned from his big day of baseball VIP treatment.

“Thank you all,” Sassi said, upon returning to Lighthouse Senior Living in Ellicott City, Maryland.

On the day Sassi threw the ceremonial first pitch on his 101st birthday, the O’s beat the Astros 5-4. And just like that, Sassi’s unforgettable day was recorded. A special memory will be cherished by a family man and true American hero. Happy birthday, Mr. Sassi.

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