The first thing Eddie Tribble did when he realized he had gone blind — that morning two years ago when he got out of the shower and went to shave and the fog would not wipe away from the bathroom mirror, no matter how hard he tried — was to go to a morning business meeting and behave as if he had not just gone blind.
He has stuck with this approach.
Shortly after that, he got on a plane to Hilton Head to play golf, because he has a group of buddies who have a little tournament each year, and Eddie Tribble does not miss an opportunity to act up with the boys. He had someone rattle the flagstick so he would know where the hole was.
After that, he went to New Hampshire, where he was supposed to play in the Pond Hockey Classic on Lake Winnipesaukee. He didn’t play — though he thought about it — and instead dressed up as an old Soviet coach and barked orders from the bench. He missed the team’s second game because he was hanging with the Labatt girls in the beer tent.
Everyone handles going blind in their own way — by climbing Everest, for instance, or painting acclaimed art. When it hit Tribble, nearly three years ago at age 32, he handled it in a very Eddie Tribble way. He has long been the life of the party, the guy who organized the bus trips to Montreal, the guy who was known as a “legend” to people who don’t throw that term around lightly. So when blindness came for him, he did what did not seem possible for him: He simply turned the fun up a notch.
Tribble grew up in Malden, the son of a fireman and a nurse, was a solid hockey and baseball player as a kid and later at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, then went on to play college baseball at Brandeis.
He moved to Pittsburgh, became a vice president for several large asset management companies, and got married. Then divorced. “I took a Mulligan,” as he likes to say.
Around Thanksgiving in 2011, just as he was in the process of moving back to Boston, he noticed that the vision in his right eye was strange. “If I looked at something, it just disappeared, like into the corn field in ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” he says.
He was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a rare genetic disease that robs people of their central vision. He shrugged it off, still had one good eye, and went about his life. Then came that morning, a few months later, when everything changed, even if he did not. “I kept wiping and wiping until finally I realized it wasn’t the mirror.”
It had spread to his other eye, leaving him with just the edges of his peripheral vision.
But as is his way, he shrugged that off in epic fashion. During “Blindo Year 1” and “Blindo Year 2,” as Tribble defines them, he has been on a tear that has amazed his family and friends.
He put on a fancy suit and flew to the Kentucky Derby, where he spent a good chunk of the day lost and listening to the Bruins game on his phone. He went to the NHL’s “Winter Classic” outdoor game during a New Year’s Day blizzard in Chicago and lost his friends in the crowd after the game when he stopped to help a man who had slipped on the ice. As his buddies panicked trying to find him, Tribble simply got in a cab and went to Harry Caray’s bar.
He has been to a Red Sox game in Anaheim and spring training in Florida. He joined the Marsh Post in Cambridge “because it’s the only bar where you can sit outside and drink along the Charles River.” He has been to the horse races at Saratoga, been to New York City several times “just to have fun,” and took a cruise to Key West and the Bahamas, where there is a now infamous video of him in the ship’s piano bar, wearing sunglasses and serenading the crowd to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
He has been to a Patriots game in Miami, a birthday party on Catalina, and a bachelor party in Nashville, where they went to a shooting range. Tribble only bothered to inform the staff that he was legally blind after firing an AR-15 (his buddies made sure he didn’t kill himself, or them).
“It’s like this experiment: We’re going to take away your most important sense and see how you deal with it.” — John McLaughlin, friend of Eddie Tribble who suffers from a rare genetic disease that affects his vision
Because he still has peripheral vision, he refuses to use a cane or an assistance dog, so it’s easy to miss the fact that the guy with the rifle cannot see the target. When it comes up — “What do you mean you’re blind?” is something he hears constantly — the only proof he has is a “Blind Access” CharlieCard from the MBTA, which he is constantly having to pull from his wallet.
Granted, a lot of this disbelief comes from the fact that he is constantly putting himself in situations where you would not necessarily expect to find a blind guy, such as standing on a pitcher’s mound throwing batting practice to a high school baseball team. Since going blind, he has become an assistant coach at his alma mater, Buckingham Browne & Nichols, and “BP from Blindo” is a real thing. The only help he needs to throw strikes is for each batter to tell him if he is a righty or a lefty.
The team loves it and the “Blindo energy” he brings. Before a game this spring, as he was telling the team about how he had recently missed a commuter train in Connecticut because he couldn’t find the train door, one of the kids said, “Hashtag: Blind people problems.” Tribble thought this was hilarious; he loves a good blind joke.
He is not making fun of going blind, he says, but having fun with it. On Facebook, he chronicles his Mr. Magoo-esque adventures under the guise that he is on a TV show called “Blind On!” — a nod to the old E! travel show “Wild On!”
He’s a huge sports fan — “Eddie from Malden” is a regular caller to the “Felger and Mazz” show on 98.5 The Sports Hub — and loves going to big games (he can sort of see the action using special high-powered “Blindo binoculars”). He was in the seats at the TD Garden when his beloved Bruins gave up a late goal to the Chicago Blackhawks and lost the Stanley Cup.
If he’s not there live, he’ll usually head to a bar or a party. If there’s no gathering happening, he’ll instigate it. When the US team played Belgium in the knockout round of the World Cup, he hosted a “watch party” — classic Tribble — at Hennessy’s in Faneuil Hall, where he was a bartender in college.
“It’s like this experiment: We’re going to take away your most important sense and see how you deal with it,” said his buddy John McLaughlin, who is from Newton and lives in Los Angeles. “Ninety-nine percent of people would be panicked to the core. I’d probably be at home sitting on the couch sucking my thumb.”
His family marvels at the fact that he has never once had a breakdown. They also worry about that. “We all get nervous because he hasn’t sulked, hasn’t felt sorry for himself, and he doesn’t really talk too much about it,” said his sister, Alicia Warner, who is a nurse. “But then you realize this is how he’s dealing with it — the travel, going out more than anyone I know. That’s his therapy. He’s doing his thing, and that includes still telling me I’m a terrible driver, even though it’s like, ‘How do you even know what I’m doing?’ ”
His professional life is still strong, and he has spent much of the past two years building up sales clients all over upstate New York and Pennsylvania, which are not easy to get to using public transportation, so his father drove him. “It feels like the old hockey road trips we used to take together when I was a kid,” he would tell clients who asked how he managed to get to them.
He’s about to start a new job at John Hancock, where he started his career years ago. He has also been dating a woman he met at a fund-raiser. When he brought her to the World Cup watch party, he exclaimed, “Bonus,” when his friends informed him that she was very attractive.
For a while, he was jogging 8 to 16 miles a day, very slowly, “constantly shifting my vision so I wouldn’t kill myself.” He was half thinking of hopping in the Boston Marathon as a bandit — this was the year before the bombings — but McLaughlin came in from L.A. and wanted to go day-drinking downtown, so he did that instead. Ultimately, he gave up jogging after a few near-death experiences and took on a new athletic challenge: CrossFit.
A couple nights a week, he goes to a gym in Woburn called CrossFit Lando, which is owned by Aaron Landes, one of his old teammates on the Brandeis baseball team.
At a party for the gym’s anniversary, Landes gave out some awards to the regulars, the people who commit to the famously grueling exercise regimen.
Tribble was given a surprise award. It was labeled “Most Likely to Make You Realize You Have No Excuse.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.