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Joe Starkey

Legally blind Pirates fan hangs on every play, has kept score for decades

| Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, fills out his scorecard in PNC Park’s third deck while chatting with Don Olsavicky, 63, of Cranberry, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, fills out his scorecard in PNC Park’s third deck while chatting with Don Olsavicky, 63, of Cranberry, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, walks along the concourse in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, walks along the concourse in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, uses a monocular to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates take the field from PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, uses a monocular to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates take the field from PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field.
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, talks with Red Sox fan Dave Beaupre of Salem, Mass., in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, talks with Red Sox fan Dave Beaupre of Salem, Mass., in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field.
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, is welcomed by season ticket holders in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Bob Lacher, 50, of West View, who is legally blind, is welcomed by season ticket holders in PNC Park’s third deck, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Lacher always loved baseball, but a degenerative condition in his eyes kept him off the field. Instead, he started attending his brother's Little League games in the 1970s, where he learned how to keep score.

Baseball is at its best in the fall, when long shadows stretch across the diamond. Bob Lacher knows this to be true, even if those shadows are difficult for him to distinguish.

Lacher, a Pirates season-ticket holder, attends all but a few games, and at every one, he keeps score — a lost art at most ballparks.

That he does so is in itself not that remarkable.

That he does so despite being legally blind is.

“I use my monocular to check the scoreboard after each play,” said Lacher, 50, of West View. “Sometimes, I might write it down on the score sheet as an F-7, a flyout to the left fielder, but the ball actually went to the center fielder.”

A degenerative eye disorder kept Lacher from playing the game he loves.

“They discovered it when I was 1 12 — I had what they call a lazy eye,” Lacher said at a recent home game. “But it was something more because it never got better — even though I got the eye surgery.”

So as a child in Marshall, Lacher swapped bat and ball for scorebook and pencil, then followed his big brother to his Little League games.

Following the action on the field was and is challenging: To Lacher, the field is a blurred canopy of green occupied by indistinguishable players. Keeping score helps.

“It keeps me more involved,” Lacher said, who keeps boxes of old scorecards at home. “I've done it since the '70s. I don't know — I just like it.”

On this night, he settles into his seat in section 315 and opens his scorecard. He pulls out his monocular and turns to the scoreboard, where the teams' lineups are listed. One by one, he carefully writes down the names.

The first batter hits a ground ball to third baseman Josh Harrison. Lacher senses the crowd's excitement and peers over his thick eyeglasses. Harrison gloves the ball and fires to first. The crowd cheers.

Lacher lifts the score sheet no more than an inch from his face and carefully writes 5-3 in the column: groundout, third to first. When the next batter strikes out, he writes a K.

Keeping score is the easy part.

Getting to the ballpark is a different matter.

His cane sweeps the ground ahead of him as Lacher makes his way, a Pirates hat pulled low over his eyes.

After a 40-minute bus ride, an unsteady three-block walk to the turnstiles, and a ride up the escalators to the upper deck, Lacher slowly walks through the concourse.

He stops for his pregame meal — a hot dog with the works.

He knows he has reached his seat when he hears the chorus of greetings — from John the usher, from the New York state family who regularly commute to Pittsburgh for Pirates home games and from a cast of others who shake his hand and welcome Lacher to what hopefully will be a Pirates win.

“Bob knows his baseball,” said Bill McGowen, 57, of Houston, a season-ticket holder. “Ask Bob about any player, and he knows what's going on. He's not just a Pirates fan; he's an MLB fan.”

Usher John Civitello, 67, of Belle Vernon grew up in New York and rooted for the Yankees. Lacher periodically checks the out-of-town scoreboard and gives Civitello updates, but only if the Yankees are losing.

“Never when they're winning,” Civitello said. “Then, I have to ask for an update.”

Lacher's ballpark family says he is the Pirates' most devoted fan.

Lacher had a stroke four years ago. He and McGowen laugh as they recall how in the ambulance, Lacher silently prayed that he would live long enough to see the Pirates win a pennant.

“Then, I amended it and prayed that I'd live to see 50,” Lacher said. “Well, this year I'm 50, and the Pirates are in another pennant chase. I don't know if I should be worried now.”

Last year, when the Pirates broke their 20-season losing streak and made the playoffs, Lacher would wear the same Pirates hats as long as they kept winning. Only if they lost would he change hats.

“My mom said that's kind of superstitious, so she told me to go to confession,” Lacher said. “I went to the priest, and I told him. ... He said that was OK. He said he was doing superstitious stuff with the Pirates, too. So ...”

Lacher paused, blinking at the darkened ballpark.

“I'm glad the Pirates are in a pennant chase again,” he said. “I don't know how far we'll go, but hopefully far. Hopefully, we have another playoff game here this year. If we do, I'll be there. ... We'll see.”

The game resumes. Lacher tugs on the brim of his cap, lifts his monocular, and waits for whatever might come next.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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