ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — It’s in the cards. Perhaps that’s the most appropriate description of the 101st birthday celebration planned for Lighthouse Senior Living resident Lee Sassi.
Lighthouse Senior Living in Ellicott City, Maryland, will celebrate the remarkable life of one of its most beloved residents, Lee Sassi, a decorated military veteran whose passion for baseball and collecting baseball cards has drawn the attention of the Baltimore Orioles, his favorite major league baseball team, and iconic brand Topps Baseball Cards.
“His dedication to the sport and his favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, is unmatched,” said Lighthouse Senior Living Executive Director Cissy Nickel, who reached out to the major league team to share Sassi’s story.
After learning of his extraordinary baseball card collection, which includes every Baltimore Orioles player since the team began playing in 1954, the American League East Division franchise invited Sassi to attend the Aug. 10 game against the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. As an extra special 101st birthday bonus, Sassi will watch the players take pre-game batting practice and then participate in the ceremonial first pitch.
Sassi was born on Aug. 10, 1922 in Star Junction, Pennsylvania, the first child of two Italian immigrants.
“Mr. Sassi has every Topps player card from the time that the Orioles were formed,” Nickel said. “His passion for baseball, the O’s, and baseball cards has now become a family tradition. Mr. Sassi purchases the entire Topps MLB set each year for his grandson who will be one of the family members escorting him on the field.”
Topps learned about the birthday celebration and plans to capture this heartwarming moment. Topps representatives will be present at Camden Yards to take photographs, conduct interviews, and preserve this cherished memory for generations to come.
“I just love it. I look forward to it every day,” Sassi said of his collection of baseball cards kept in many binders filled with cards of Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer, among numerous other Orioles greats.
“Topps put out a set of Orioles cards every year, and I saved it every year,” he said. “I spent some time and money on this whole collection.”
When asked how he started his card-collecting hobby, Sassi said, “I was a kid and I had baseball cards in the 1930s. Then I went into the service. At that time, it was a kids’ game. Now it’s a grown ups’ game.”
His binders also included tickets from the 1958 Major League Baseball All-Star Game played in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. He also had reminders of the Orioles’ first World Series championship in 1966. “I love baseball,” Sassi said. “I loved the players, major leagues. I saved everything when I was a kid.”
As a decorated military veteran, Sassi served during World War II and the Korean War, receiving a Purple Heart, as well as the Bronze Star for his courage and sacrifice. In February 1944, he left New York by ship to England, where he served under legendary Gen. George S. Patton in France, Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge, and Germany.
Sassi was wounded in Germany near Elbe River on April 12, 1945. After his release from the Army Hospital, he served three more years, was assigned to President Harry S. Truman’s Honor Guard for three months, and then also served in the Korean War.
“His service is a testament to his strength and resilience, and his life story continues to leave an indelible mark on all those around him,” Nickel said.
Sassi and his wife, Iris, married in 1946 and had two daughters, Gail and Phyllis, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Sassi worked as a plasterer until age 40 and then joined Westinghouse until his retirement.
The Orioles plan to show a video https://vimeo.com/813529754 that tells Sassi’s story during the broadcast of the Aug. 10 game and as an introduction to the centenarian prior to the ceremonial first pitch. The video was recorded and edited by Alex Parker, Lighthouse Senior Living sales and marketing director who formerly worked with WJLA/ABC7 and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
“Dad has always been a devoted Orioles fan, and baseball has been a constant thread in our family,” said Gail Conoway, Lee’s daughter. “When I heard about this amazing surprise, I knew I couldn’t miss it for the world and will come all the way from my home in Alaska.”
Ten members of the Lighthouse Senior Living staff plan to attend the game alongside at least 10 of Sassi’s family members and the physical therapy team BAYADA, who helped him practice his pitch in advance of the game. Lighthouse Senior Living is owned by an affiliate of
Baltimore-based investment and development firm, Washington Place Equities, and is managed by Greenbrier Senior Living.
“This heartwarming story exemplifies the spirit of family and community that Lighthouse Senior Living embodies, cherishing their residents’ lives and fostering unforgettable moments that enrich their days,” Nickel said.