Pound for pound and inch for inch none were tougher in life and in death than my dad, Clarence J. Fortin. He was stocky, fast, and quick tempered. He was also an extremely powerful human being, both physically and mentally.
One side of him was a brute who loved fist fighting and competing in sporting events. The other side of him was a gentle, caring, fun loving and overprotective individual who was so sensitive his eyes welled up and cried when he heard the Lord’s Prayer recited or the Star Spangled Banner being played.
That was Clarence a dichotomy, a person I believe strived to be a good father, a good husband, a good brother, overall just a good man.
No one could ever say he didn’t live life to the fullest. Was he the straightest arrow in the quiver? I doubt it; not by a long shot. Sometimes he drank to excess; gambled to excess and caroused at one time or another like most. Yet he also worked to excess as well and dedicated his life towards getting ahead and making a name for himself and family. To this cause he was excessive as well. Clarence played hard and worked even harder one of the keys to his success.
Perhaps his toughness had something to do with being named Clarence.
“I wouldn’t name a dog Clarence,” was his reply when asked about his name.
To say he hated and resented it would be an understatement. Yet, no doubt it helped to mold him into who he became. A boy turned man who always cheered for the underdog. Clarence was a person who was always there to lend a hand or protect the weak the innocent when he could. He was the eldest of 8 so the responsibility to watch over and protect was ingrained from his earliest years of development.
Born June 13, 1926 he grew up during America’s Great Depression. Clarence’s father, Leonide, was a boarder along with several other men in a home owned by Maxim and Mary Portwine in Fort Kent Maine.
Leonide, much younger than Maxim, obviously appealed to Mary. The two embarked on a long affair that produced five children, Clarence, Lawrence, Anita, Patrick, and Donald.
Born out of wedlock, Clarence experienced the pain of knowing he was a bastard child which made him feel his existence was nothing more than a mistake to be hidden and covered up, never discussed. Those embarrassing thoughts for which he had no control, haunted him until the day he died.
He was one of many boys who became men sooner than they ever expected due to WWII. At 17, he was in the US Navy fighting the Japanese in the Pacific on a troop transport ship named the SS. Dupage. There he worked as a ships cook.Towards the end of the war his ship was hit by a Kamikaze plane. When witnessed death, destruction, and suffering had to effect those souls who made it through.
Clarence had more heart than most. Small in stature but big in life he had a predisposition to make the world a better place by contributing to school scholarships, school drives, and sponsoring numerous sporting teams through the years (softball, bowling, basketball, Babe Ruth baseball, bocce ball).
Annually at his own expense, he would dedicate America’s most coveted award, a Super Bowl Trophy replica, to the most valuable player of the Naugatuck vs. Ansonia Thanksgiving Day football game, which happens to be the oldest football rivalry in Connecticut history.
C.J. Fortin sponsored numerous bus trips to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. He would make hundreds of his famous meatball and Italian sausage grinders all smothered in onions, peppers, mozzarella cheese, and homemade Italian sauce. These were happily devoured going to and coming home from the games.
Beer flowed all day as did jokes and the fun and excitement of watching the Yankees play ball. Clarence also became a New York Yankee season ticket holder. For many years he treated hundreds of his loyal restaurant patrons and friends to free games and exclusive 5 course meals. That was his character, always giving without ever expecting anything in return. Clarence J. Fortin or CJ as he was affectionately called, exuded generosity. His good nature helped make him one of the most respected, loved, and admired men of his community.
Another wonderful aspect to Clarence’s personality was the fact that he was a dreamer. A "big dreamer" who imagined on a grand scale, sometimes wishing and dreaming beyond what most thought was humanly possible. Forever undeterred, he made his success happen. No matter what his endeavor was, he always committed everything to his triumph.
As a young man Clarence had dined at Toots Shore’s Restaurant in New York City, Toots eatery was world renowned, first class dining. What made this place different from other great restaurants were the hundreds of autographed photos taken of Toots and his celebrity guests. Toots was a smart man. He figured out he could occupy the annoying time patrons sometimes had to wait for a table. Gazing at all these pictures seemed to make their wait pass much quicker.
When he owned his own restaurant, called Fortin’s, he did the same thing. As famous people came to dine he often took their picture, usually with himself or accompanied by wife Irene. After a few years the walls were covered with stardom. Not only had Clarence taken a page out of Toots Shores resume but some how people started referring to his business as another "Toots Shores."
The success of Fortin’s restaurant moved Clarence into the inner circle of the hospitality and dining business. He was elected president of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. He was happily elected to that position for five consecutive years. His duties included speaking before the Connecticut House of Representatives on many restaurant issues and pushing for legislation to benefit the restaurant industry. Clarence regularly visited the governors office and established a friendship with Ella Grasso, our nations first female governor. The most inspiring aspect of all his accomplishment was the fact that Clarence never even graduated from high school. He stood tall and proud for what he had accomplished
Clarence also dreamed of one day having a son who would be a baseball player, maybe even a star. So he named his only son after New York Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle.
Mickey Mantle Fortin was born on June 10, 1953 nine months after Clarence vowed to name his son after Mantle if he hit a home run to win the 6th game of the 1952 World Series. We know he did. Not only did Clarence name his son after Mantle, he established a friendship with the Mick that lasted longer than 20 years.
Unbelievably Clarence J. Fortin and Mickey Mantle both passed away on August 13th and incredibly both died from the same terrible disease liver cancer.
One of Clarence ’s most revered wishes was to see his son Mickey play baseball. His wishes came true as Mickey also played centerfield and wore Mantle’s famous number 7.
Mickey Mantle Fortin’s high school baseball team, the Naugatuck Greyhounds set a national record in 1970-71-72 by winning 64 consecutive games, marking baseball longest win streak ever.
Mickey also led his team in 1971 by winning the batting championship with a .377 average and receiving NVL conference awards and All New England All Star Baseball Team recognition.
Naugatuck team pictures and autographs hung in Cooperstown NY’s, Baseball Hall of Fame for many years until the streak was eventually broken.
Ironically Mickey Mantle Fortin made it to Cooperstown in 1974. Mickey Mantle was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.
In 2005 Mickey Fortin proudly became part of HBO’s Emmy nominated production of Mantle, a documentary about the life and times of Mickey Mantle.
Lastly, in October 2010, Mickey Mantle Fortin was inducted into the Naugatuck CT Hall of Fame for his inspirational athletic achievements.
And who said, "wildest dreams" NEVER come true ?
(Mickey Fortin Naugatuck Hall of Fame speech)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWLoYslbh5I
HBO Archives_ MANTLE
St. PetersburgTimes Front Page
"FOUL BALLS FROM HEAVEN" a true story written by Mickey which led HBO producers to ask that he be in their movie MANTLE.