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Foul Balls From Heaven
By Mickey Mantle Fortin
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Rated "G" by the Author.
A story where faith,love, and the hereafter come together
FOUL BALL’S FROM HEAVEN
This tale is about a special man and my one time frail human faith.
It doesn't seem so long ago he sat across from me. I can still see those striking blue eyes staring right through me.
“You wanna know something Mick?
I was born on the 13th and I know I’m gonna die on the 13th.
Whenever I wake up on the 14th I feel fortunate, I know I’ve got another month to live,” proclaimed my father, Connecticut restauranteur, Clarence J. Fortin.
My Dad was a person who was never sick or even missed a day of work that I can remember. I was always impressed by the way he worked tirelessly, just like a machine; every day, seven days a week, 363 days a year.
Fortin’s Restaurant as he named it, was closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Other than those days, Dad was cooking, cleaning, or socializing with friends and loyal patrons at his eatery. He regularly worked until 1 or 2am before closing and calling it a day. He would come home and try to sleep, (if he was lucky he might get five or six hours) and go back and do it all over again. I admired and respected him since he never complained about his demanding schedule or the tiring tasks that constantly faced him.
Now here we were the two of us sitting in his screened-in porch discussing his doctor's latest diagnosis of his battle with cancer. For a time there were high hopes he would survive the malignant tumors ravaging his once athletic body.
Unfortunately at age fifty-four, colon cancer had begun its attack and was on its predictable and deadly course. My Dad fought like a trooper to beat his disease and just like a human guinea pig in the name of medical science, he subjected himself to radical experimental surgery at Sloan Kettering Memorial in New York City, one of America's premier cancer hospitals.
Initially surgery was performed and our family reassured by Dad's surgeon all of his cancer had been removed. The doctor even joked with my father telling him, “Clarence, go home and live to be a hundred.”
Dad underwent a regularly scheduled blood analysis every month. The lab monitored the cancer and whether it was still in remission. Three years had passed before our family had gloomy news once again. Clarence had been unlucky, his cancer had returned. He faced another death sentence. This time the vile disease had re-manifested itself in a vital organ, his liver.
Dr. Warren Enker, a renowned oncologist at Sloan Hospital, decided on one last experimental procedure in order to save his life. A new therapy being developed used a chem-o pump placed directly at the cancers source. The only hope we had was a direct application of chemotherapy might shrink the tumors back into remission.
After opening Dad's abdomen during surgery, Dr. Enker discovered the cancer had spread into his pancreas. He closed him up knowing there was nothing more he could do to save his life.The doctor knew the tough road facing my Dad, unfortunately it had a short and painful ending. Our family quickly learned liver and pancreatic cancers are swift killers usually fatal in six months, sometimes even sooner. The only humane thing left was to make Dad comfortable with pain medication during those final days.
Our father was instructed by Dr. Enker, who had become a friend, "Clarence go home and make sure your final affairs are in order."
With these depressing thoughts in mind, our family turned to the one thing we had left --- prayers.
I never wanted to believe my true life hero was dying. Dad had always been my idol and inspiration. He was someone I loved unconditionally and tried miserably to emulate throughout my life. I found myself despondent after realizing he was leaving me an incredible pair of shoes to fill, -- not that I ever believed for one moment that I could.
One thing Dad constantly preached during his life and tried to instill in me was this ---
A man is only as good as his word.
He grew up in the days when a man’s word was his bond and his handshake was all that was necessary to consummate any deal. Till the day he died he believed in personal honor above all else. The older I became the more I respected this wonderful trait in his personality. As you'll see our Dad held that philosophy sacred until the day he left us.
It was inconceivable this was happening to him. Now every time I looked at him I had this frightful image of mutating cells growing inside him. I was frightened for him knowing he was once again facing life’s final challenge --- death.
As I sat heartbroken, we morosely discussed his predicted demise and this absurd theory that he would die on the 13th. We even joked and tried to make light of the inevitable outcome ahead of him.
I recall sitting there feeling extremely bitter as a sad emptiness grew within my heart. I soon found myself overwhelmed with a deep sense of depression and regrets.
During that unforgettable afternoon together we discussed a wide variety of subjects --- family, business, even our opposing religious beliefs, which immediately became a hot topic we debated. Dad possessed a philosophy taken from the old school. I, regarded myself as a scientific thinker, wanting to hear nothing but the facts.
“Dad, I’m doubting our Catholic religion. My faith is so weak, I'd say its practically non-existent. I just don’t know who or what to believe anymore.” I finished our conversation by comparing myself to “Doubting Thomas.
I purposely asked how he felt about GOD. I wanted to know what he felt knowing he would soon be facing death.
I further inquired about his beliefs in the hereafter and went so far as to discuss theories regarding heaven and hell. We found ourselves crossing boundaries that had restricted our father/son relationship for years. This seemed pretty remarkable and oddly strange at the same time.
"Of course I believe in GOD and certainly in heaven," Dad exclaimed. "Are you crazy?"
“Pop, it would make me feel better if you were able to give me some kind of sign after you’ve gone. Something! Anything! Just let me know you're alright. Do it in a way so I’ll know for certain your spirit has moved on despite your earthly finish."
Clarence had a characteristic crooked little smile which gave way to an enormous grin that spread from ear to ear.
He replied in his usual teasing manner, "Sure Mick, I’ll send you a Western Union Telegram.”
Frustrated, I stammered, "No Dad, I'm not kidding. I’m totally serious on this one! The bottom line is I need your help.”
His reply, "Son believe me, if there’s anyway I can give you a sign, trust me, I’ll let you know. I promise.”
Knowing him as a man of his word, I hoped he might restore my crumbled faith.
Discussing your father's upcoming death is not the easiest conversation to share in. As a matter of fact, discussing this topic made me very uncomfortable and nearly sick. It was as if his life's meter was ticking away and our precious time together was running out faster than either of us ever expected. All I wanted from then on in was to share every last minute of his existence here on earth.
As for this silly and absurd prediction of him dying on the 13th --- I don't know why, but I started to believe him.
Call it a coincident, but Clarence Fortin was one of 13 children.
Dad quit high school in 1942 at age 16. America was at war and the call to service in the Navy would be his future. Those who grew up in the Great Depression, and WW II, were boys who became men sooner than they expected.
Dreams of playing professional baseball, or football had vanished. Being the eldest son who lived at home, he was expected to help carry the load of providing for the rest of the family. During those trying times, it was important that everyone work and help support the family. Everyone was expected to pitch in, it was that simple. A higher education in those days, especially to the poor, was a luxury and considered secondary. Children on summer vacations played with friends, had loads of fun, and created wonderful memories. Dad was no different in that he longed for playtime as well. However his life was earmarked for something different.
It was called work!
Every summer morning at 6 a.m. he and his father left their humble home to work on a beautiful sprawling estate in upstate New York. This magnificent property owned by a rich German aristocrat was located in the Bear Mountains. A place called Mount Kisco.
Once they arrived Dad usually worked as a kitchen helper, gathering fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, and helped in the preparation of lunch and dinner. Other times he pitched in as a caretaker’s assistant, cutting lawns and weeding flower beds.
My grandfather who was a stern man along with his ambitious young son, worked hard. It was usually late in the afternoon before they called it a day and began their forty five minute ride back to the humble abode they called home.
Dad told me stories of how he could see bright stars scattered in the sky at night through the many holes and cracks in the roof of the bedroom he shared with his siblings. Their modest and rundown home, was heated with only an old potbelly wood stove. Dad and younger brother Larry, were responsible for keeping the fires burning and the house warm. Their duty was to make sure they had ample firewood stacked at all times.
I remember hearing stories of blistery winter nights in New England and how his young sisters, especially Anita, placed their tiny cold feet on his back to keep them warm. He embraced his role as big brother. From what he told me, his family lived through some of the hardest times imaginable which made him appreciate things more than most.
He grew up loving sports, in particular baseball. He was just a boy during the glory days of the 1930’s and 40’s Yankees. And like most kids his age, Dad fantasized about playing in Yankee pinstripes one day. Regrettably he never got that opportunity because other things took precedent, like earning a living.
Clarence involuntarily became a man earlier than most his age. It wasn't something he wanted but life left him with no other choice. Despite these shortcomings his dreams never died, not for a single moment.
When I was born he promised himself that his son would have the chance to play baseball and other sports he was cheated out of. I know this is the main reason he named me after New York Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle his idol.
Dad was going to make absolutely sure I had a golden opportunity to succeed right from the very start, beginning with an iconic name. He believed with Mantle’s moniker, I couldn't help but be a successful baseball player; perhaps even a star one day.
Through out all the years of growing up I imagine Dad and I must have attended 300 or 400 baseball games. To say we went often might be an understatement. We usually went to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx or to Fenway Park in Boston Massachusetts. There we watched baseballs oldest and most heralded rivalries the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out time and again.
Throughout those hundreds of games neither of us came remotely close to catching a home run or even a foul ball. We were never that lucky.
Dad was always mindful about being a devoted parent and never wanting to disappoint, always allowed me to pick out my favorite souvenir after a game. Whatever I wanted he made sure I got it. Whether it was a baseball, team pennant, or a Yankee shirt he gladly bought it for me.
Above all else, I enjoyed and cherished our one and a half to two hour rides going to and from the games. I still remember sitting there totally mesmerized listening ever so intently while he recanted favorite memories of his life. Dad will forever get my vote as the most captivating storyteller I ever heard.
Whether he was recalling fond memories of the Big Bands of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, or him dancing in the aisles at the Paramount in New York City I loved his story telling.
The most exciting were his vivid recollections of WWII. I recall being captivated by his tale of a Japanese Kamikaze plane hitting his ship transporting troops in the South Pacific. Dad certainly had an entertaining way of expressing himself with the emotional words he chose. I saw him become teary eyed thinking back to the days of his youth. I cried with him.
There were many late nights I fell asleep, my head laid upon his lap, as he drove us home from Yankee Stadium. After hearing those stories I would dream about far off places and exciting events well before my time. He was so good at telling stories I imagined things as if I were there firsthand. He relived his fond memories as he drove. I learned about many of his memories of life and felt lucky to gather a sense of his deepest heartfelt emotions.
I feel blessed that we were able to share such precious times alone, just father and son. They still are and will always remain some of life’s fondest and most cherished memories.
I can remember getting that dreaded call early one summer morning, it was after 2 a.m..
I answered the telephone drowsy and half asleep recognizing Mom’s voice on the other line.
"Mick, hurry! Come to the hospital right away,” she cried out.
Sounding emotionally drained, she wailed into the hospital phone, "Your Dad’s pulse has dropped and it looks like his kidneys might have shut down. The nurses' doubt he’s going to make it to the morning. Please get here right away if you want to say goodbye to your father.”.
I immediately bolted from my warm cozy bed and began searching for clothes to wear. I became tearful wishing I didn’t have to go through this. Angry, I asked myself, why him?
Why was my Dad dying at such a young age? This seemed impossible because he had always been extremely healthy. What an irony this turned out to be, just because he had been the healthiest one in our family. Now he was sick and dying which made no sense.
As I thought more about it I began to worry. I wondered what would become of our family.
How would Mom get along by herself? After all, they were married for thirty five years. So many questions raced across my mind as real fear and loneliness overwhelmed my conscience.
I was finally forced to accept the bitter reality; he was leaving us for good. Making matters worse, it could be soon, possibly tonight. All along I attempted to prepare myself mentally for this exact moment, but the agony of comprehending these were Dad’s final hours was emotionally crushing.
I cried as I thought back to the last time I spoke with my him. We were in his hospital bedroom six days earlier.
I am so thankful to have had those precious moments alone together.
I can still visualize that standard black clock on his hospital room wall. I had watched its constant movement for hours upon end during his numerous hospital stays. It was easy to read with its big black numbers, stark white face, and long sweeping hands. The clock now read four o'clock and unfortunately that also meant it was time for me to leave.
Most of our dialog that afternoon was random and trivial conversation with very little essence to it. Small talk, since Dad's thoughts were fading in and out.
One moment he was right there with me and then in an instant he was gone --- lost somewhere in the back of his mind. I discovered when a person gets liver cancer, the brain is the first thing to malfunction. This is caused due to a buildup of toxins in the blood. The liver fails to filter poison’s from the bloodstream. This creates a debilitating reaction.
From the moment I laid my eyes on his face my gut reaction cried ---- sickness. There was no denying it. His eyes no longer possessed the captivating sparkle and beautiful bright blue twinkle they had shown throughout his life.
Death was peeking out from his bewildered and suffering gaze. Dad's eyes were now a jaundiced yellow color sinking slowly back into his skull. He wore the unmistakable pose of someone sick and dying.
His striking blue eyes which beamed so clear and vibrant were gone. It was apparent this bad adventure to the hospital would be his last. Not one of us expected he would return home. It was a horrible and sad moment as I watched him climb into the passenger side of his cream colored Cadillac. Our family cried as Mom and Dad drove away knowing he would never come home.
This four year battle with cancer, was drawing to a heartbreaking conclusion. Looking back, I know how fortunate and blessed I was to share an additional three and a half years with him. His original diagnoses had him dead in six months.
During this brief period we really got to know and understand one another. I asked him lots of questions, and received many answers.Neither of us evaded sensitive issues that seemed to feed our confusing and sometime tumultuous relationship.
I had gone to visit my father with a close buddy, Dennis Wilcox. He wore a long beard which gave him a Grizzly Adams appearance together with his 6’2” 300 pound frame. Dennis was one of the most intimidating nice guys you would ever meet.
The hour we were there passed quickly. Dad drifted in and out of sleep as the medications sedated him and relieved his pain. As we prepared to leave, a weird overwhelming sense of reluctance to say goodbye overcame me.
I passed the foot of his hospital bed and teased him by grabbing his cold toes covered by his sheets. I stopped for a moment and stared until I caught his gaze with mine.
I remember my voice trembled as I said, "Goodbye Pop; I'll see you later."
"Bye", was all he said in a robotic monotone.
I remember quizzing him after that, "You know who this is talking to you, right?"
"Sure I do, you’re my Mick,” he proudly chuckled showing that lovable crooked smile.
It made me feel special to know he still remembered and recognize me. Sad to say, other members of the family who were not so fortunate.
For whatever reason, I don't know what possessed me to do this, but I asked Dennis to please excuse us. I explained I needed a few moments alone with my Dad. Dennis gave a soft embarrassed look as he blushed then acted like he had done something wrong. Quick and polite as ever he excused himself saying goodbye to my father and said he'd wait by the elevator.
He left as the most important minutes of my life unfolded.
I moved towards his bedside as a landslide of emotions overwhelmed me.
LOVE -- JOY -- PRIDE -- GUILT -- SORROW -- showed up simultaneously.
But not all my thoughts that afternoon were happy one’s.
I could not help but reflect on sad memories of dumb childish incidents I put my parents through growing up. Mom and Dad were both strict disciplinarians. I on the other hand, was a rebel at heart.
The irony of our relationship was that I wanted to be just like Dad, a man‘s man.
I loved and admired the person he was. He was fairly short, but a powerful man who had a loving and compassionate side to him. He preferred to keep his softer emotional side under wraps.
He was simple and at the same time extremely intricate. These attributes made Clarence Fortin the type of man people loved and respected. Not only was he a character and the life of any party, but he also had character, and plenty of it.
Dad wasn’t just my hero. He was a hero to many others who admired and treasured the man I was proud to call Dad. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to help someone in a jam. He had a love for people and people loved him back one hundred fold. It never mattered what color or background you came from, Dad opened his heart, his home, his business, and even his wallet to those in distress.
Weird as it seemed and for a reason I can't explain, if Dad was hot, I was cold.
If he went left, I went right.
If he saw white, I saw black.
I never understood this craziness; so much alike, and yet so different. I'll admit this was one of the most frustrating relationship I ever experienced.
In spite of this bizarre adversity, I knew one truth. Dad loved me and I loved him regardless of our faults. I understood him but I don't believe he ever truly understood me.
His family was not affectionate. Dad suffered emotionally due to this dysfunctional upbringing. Many times he failed to convey his loving sentiments. Not because they weren't there, but because he didn't know how to express himself in such sensitive matters. All of us longed for Dad’s affection and approval and craved his loving touch which was shown too infrequently.
I began by reaching out to grasp his hand. These hands had fed and clothed me, shown discipline as well as love and were my structure and strength. I felt his weak and shaky hand become one with mine. This was uncommon because it lasted longer than our usual brief handshake.
It was when the truth of our lives became validated.
I explained to him that we might not have been marching to the same beat all the time, or been on the same page of life but the bottom line was I loved him. I knew in my heart he was a good person and a father I respected. I further explained that misdeeds on my part were due to immaturity and dumb adolescence, not anger or hostilities.
During these precious moments of my self-cleansing confession, something extraordinary and wonderful happened. This tough man who never let me or anyone else get physically close to him continued embracing me.
This time he didn't pull away.
This time he felt the pure moment of our love, just as I was feeling the exact same emotion.Finally we were in step. Both of us were on the same page. His loving hand bonded with mine.
He comforted me. He forgave me. He loved me.
I'll admit, I never felt closer to my father than in those glorious minutes which passed all too quickly.
This tragic event was a blessing in disguise for the both of us.
I began to cry as I unloaded years of unspoken guilt. I finally put to rest years of shame for mistakes which had haunted me. Dad realized and finally admitted to his mistakes too. Although he longed for perfection he understood he was not perfect either.
"I know there were times when you were growing up I should have been there for you and I wasn't. I worked hard, put in way too many hours at my family's expense. I know I’m guilty. I’ll admit it. I might not have been the best father Mick, but the bottom line, you are my only son; You don’t know how much I love you, I always have.”
With those resounding words spinning about in my head, he did something astounding.
He pulled my face, tears and all, towards his and gently kissed me on the cheek in a manner I had never experienced before.
Tears immediately began to stream down his bony jaundiced cheeks, I‘ll never forget that. Dad never cried in front of any of us. I still recall the mixing of our tears as we held each other close.
This was the first time as men we hugged in such a loving manner.
I went from touching his cheek to burying my head in his chest and for once he actually held me.
I cried like his baby.
I sobbed in front of him like never before. He knew how sorry I was.
For one brief moment in our lives everything was "perfect" between us.
“I love you Dad,” was all I could muster.
That was all I wanted or needed to say. Blessed with these wonderful last moments he could face his death knowing he said what needed to be said. He had revealed what was in his heart.
This opportunity spared me a lifetime of guilt. I had made things right with the most important person in my life, my father. I apologized to him before he died.
Saying I was sorry and having him accept my apology, was the equivalent of wiping away all my sins.
There was a greater significance to this special moment. This conversation turned out to be our last. It became a final goodbye to this wonderful man I proudly called Dad.
You've heard the saying many times, "We saved the best for last”. For us these were the true st words ever spoken.
Neither I nor my father knew it at the time, but he was about to begin his difficult journey towards fulfilling both our destinies.
I sped to the hospital going well over the speed limit. A million thoughts raced through my mind. I remembered how Dad was convinced he would die before seeing any grandchildren. I saw him weep on several occasions over this issue because he always thought the worst.
I also recall how Dad did not and could not utter a single word, when I called he and Mom at 5:30 am on March 9,1982 and announced with pride, the arrival of their first grandchild, a beautiful healthy grandson, we named Brett Michael.
I still see Dad and my Mom, as the two of them arrived at the maternity ward at Waterbury Hospital at 7am. They sure looked like proud grandparents as Dad was decked out in his Sunday best suit, complete with tie and handkerchief, while Mom wore a classy pants suit.
I remember being curious and asking him, "Dad why are you so dressed up at 7 in the morning ? "
He smugly joked back, while adjusting his tie and shirt with his right hand in a Rodney Dangerfield " I get no respect" fashion, “ I want to make a good first impression on my new grandson.”
Then he took out a self autographed baseball from the inside pocket of his suit and tossed it to me exclaiming, “Put this away for my grandson.”
It had been signed, “To My Grandson Brett, Love always Grandpa Fortin.”
I cherish the memory of that magnificent day because I know it was one of the greatest moments of his life as well as mine. Finally he saw his grandchild, a grandson to boot. It meant a lot to the both of us.
On my way to the hospital another passing thought crossed my mind. Today was only the 12th. Dad had foretold of dying on the 13th. I wondered, had he missed his eerie prediction by one day? According to his prediction this wasn’t the time to go. Not yet.
It only took fifteen minutes for me to arrive at the hospital, although it seemed like it took forever. When I got to his bedside he was lying there motionless. He looked extremely pale, except for the horrible yellow tone given him by his liver cancer. His mouth hung wide open forming a gaping hole. He gasped intermittently and appeared to be struggling for each labored breath.
Dad had slipped into a coma six days earlier. He never moved, never ate, and never drank another thing after our last conversation. It seemed his bodily functions were running on autopilot. It was sad to see someone who was such a strong vibrant person deteriorate to this horrific condition. There was too much suffering and it was not the way for such a good life to come to an end.
Anyone who was his immediate family was at his bedside. We tried to comfort each other the best we could and agonized over the reality that this was truly the end. With each passing hour we wondered which breath would be his last.
As the morning sun peeked through his hospital window, we were surprised he made it through another night. When the morning nurse came in and checked his vital signs she began shaking her head in disbelief.
“You folks are not going to believe this,” she exclaimed.
“Believe it or not your fathers pulse has picked up. It seems his kidneys which had shut down earlier, are functioning again. Even his blood pressure is stable. I’m convinced this man’s on a mission. I think he’s trying to survive till the thirteenth, I can sense it,” the nurse declared.
Clarence shared his morbid premonition with the hospital staff and various patients upon his arrival. As we all know, he loved to socialize and tell jokes and stories. Now his survival to meet this time line for death was the main topic of conversation for his caregivers as well as the entire hospital floor. Clarence Fortin’s unbelievable will to hang on to life was purely magical, astonishing.
Anyone who knew the rumor circulating at Waterbury Hospital was beginning to have faith in his prediction. They were witnessing this mini-miracle first hand.
It was rare for the hospital staff to see someone so close to the end cheat death as our Dad had done. It was a remarkable watching one’s inner strength take over like that night.
Much of that last day we spent wiping his forehead, holding his hands, and reassuring him how much we loved him. Time seemed to be set in slow motion most of that dismal day. I remember we watched the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics that Sunday evening on his hospital TV. The family was with him the entire day knew a sad chapter in our lives was about to end too.
At three minutes before midnight things began to change. My older sister Donna, who was holding his left hand, suddenly let out with a heart wrenching scream, “Daddy’s hand is ice cold.”
I was still holding his right hand and weirdly enough, had not yet felt the lifelessness she experienced. His hand was still warm and alive.
But then suddenly, I too was clutching an ice-cold hand.
The warm and beautiful life of an extraordinary person had faded.
Dad took several long hard gasps, each one taking longer to arrive.
Finally there was one long reach for breath, and then none.
It was over.
Death had claimed another victim but not before Dad’s battle to reach the thirteenth had been accomplished. For reasons we didn't know he refused to die until his time of choice.
A few minutes later the doctor came into the room, felt for a pulse, and listened with his stethoscope for a heartbeat. He heard nothing then proceeded to pronounce Clarence J. Fortin deceased at exactly 12:07am August 13.
Dad had lost but yet he won.
He had kept his final promise.
His word as always was good right to the very end of life.
Clarence was born on the thirteenth, and now died on the thirteenth, exactly as he predicted. To this day I wonder how he knew.
Was there a hidden meaning behind Dad’s absurd and weird declaration? I didn’t have an answer and neither did anyone else.
Dad was buried for a week when his good friend and mine, Ted Rykoski, called and coaxed me into going out with him. He knew I was depressed and suggested we take in a baseball game for old times sake. In the past Dad, myself, and Teddy, went to many games together. Ted was the ultimate die hard Red Sox fanatic. Mr.Red Sox Extreme as I called him, always made for good company, especially when the Yanks played Boston.
I joked with Teddy when I said, “The Yanks are out of town and I’ll be cursed or haunted for life if the first game I go to is a Red Sox game. More than ever being the first game after Dad’s passing. Teddy, my Dad will roll over in his grave for sure. I promise you, he'll haunt the both of us for the rest of our days if I go to Fenway.”
We both burst into uncontrollable laughter because we both knew it might be true . We were very familiar with the sense of humor Dad possessed and wouldn’t put him haunting us past him. This was the first time I laughed in quite a while and it felt good.
As fate would have it, the Red Sox were playing the Kansas City Royals that Friday night. It was the only reason I agreed to go up to Fenway in the first place. This was an opportunity to see my fraternity brother, Greg Pryor, play in the big leagues.He played shortstop and helped F.S.C. win the College World Series in 1973.
Besides I hadn’t seen Greg since my Sigma Chi initiation at Florida Southern College ten years earlier. The thrill of watching him play in the majors was about the only thing enticing enough to get me into Red Sox country.
I remember the big charge Greg got when he learned I had been named after Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle. So with high anticipation, Teddy and I cheerfully made the two hour drive from Connecticut to Boston. We laughed and reminisced about Dad, and talked baseball, what else?
That evening we scalped a couple of great seats right behind the Royals third base dugout. There were approximately 32,000 plus fans on hand for this game; a respectable crowd for a Friday night home game. Unfortunately the majority of attendees were Red Sox fans. Yankee fans are taught early in life; the Red Sox are the enemy.
The first 3 innings went quick. My mind was somewhere other than on this baseball game which wasn’t exciting by any stretch. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Wade Boggs, the all-star third baseman for the Sox came to bat.
On the second pitch he checked his swing. The ball made contact with his bat as he fouled off the pitch. I watched it come rocketing into the crowd. It hit two or three outstretched hands in front of me. The ball flying fast, skipped from the front to the back rows where I sat. Everyone had the same intention, catch that ball!
Astonished, was an understatement, when I reached out and captured this souvenir safely in my grasp.
It happened in the blink of an eye.
Teddy was shocked and so was I.
We sat there with a dumbfounded look on our faces. Teddy said he was lucky enough to catch a homer when he was a boy. I remember him saying it was an excitement you never forget. He was right!
He wanted to celebrate with a couple of ice cold beers. This sounded like a great idea, and sounded even better after he offered to buy. In an instant, he was up the aisle and gone.
I sat in total disbelief, the thrill still sinking in. The 4th inning ended,as I waited patiently for my foaming reward.
The Kansas City Royals were up at bat. I honestly don’t remember who the player was, but after the 4th pitch, another foul ball came flying into the stands right where I sat. This ball flew in quick and very hard and became lost in a mad scramble of arms and legs. Everyone scurried to locate the leather prize.
Amid all this chaos, I gazed down and there it was! Another foul ball lay at my feet. I simply reached down and picked it up, totally uncontested.
Not only had I caught my first foul ball ever but now I had two. Two of them in one game; unbelievable I thought.
Teddy came back with our beers and gazed in complete disbelief.
He freaked out by yelling, “Don’t tell me you caught another one!”
“I did! I did! Can you believe this is happening?"
It was about that time when many obnoxious Red Sox fans began their wisecracks and heckling.
“Hey, jerk, you don’t need two baseballs," yelled one of them!
"Why don't you give one to a kid,” another shouted?
They continued their harassment not understanding that I was in a mini state of shock.
After I settled down and realized what had just happened I began to scorn their irritating barrage of remarks. My immediate reaction was to prove my undying loyalty for my Yankees and toss both balls back on to the field. I knew this action would enrage most of the mouthy Sox fans who surrounded me. It was one way for me to even the score.
For whatever strange reason I hung on to my trophies. Perhaps they were right, I should share my good fortune with one of the young kids at the park that night. I knew my Dad would have done exactly that, I’m positive.
With that thought in mind, I turned and gazed into the stands behind me. My eyes fell on this handsome blond haired boy sitting two rows behind me. When I spotted him, it appeared as though he were framed in a glowing oval matte, making him stand out from all the others. He was the only person that came into my focus. With a gesture of kindness, and mixed humility I reached out and placed one of my baseballs into his hand.
I said, “Here this one's for you.” He must have been eight or nine years old.
With a look of awe on his face he said, “Gee mister, thanks a lot!”
He immediately began to show off his new treasure to a friend sitting right beside him. It made me feel good deep down inside knowing I had done the right thing.
The last few innings of the game passed quickly after all the excitement. When it came time for my little friend and his father to leave, his appreciative Dad placed one of his business card into my shirt pocket and thanked me once again for making this a memorable game for his son.
“The next time you’re ever in Boston friend, look me up so I can take you out to lunch,” he exclaimed, as they began walking away.
Shortly thereafter, I remember taking his card out of my pocket and staring at it.
There was a name on the card that held past recognition. His last name happened to be Harney. I seriously contemplated whether he was a relative of a gentleman I knew named Fred Harney who was also from Massachusetts and had been involved with my Dad in trying to build a Greyhound Racing complex in our small town of Naugatuck Connecticut. Dad and Fred had struck up a close relationship during their short-lived project.
Was the youngster to related to Mr. Harney?
If he was, what were the odds of catching not one but two foul balls in one game and then giving one to a friend of my Dad. This started to become a little to coincidental and I found it all rather spooky!
Teddy and I started making our way down to the players locker room hoping to meet up with Greg Pryor. Both of us could not believe the sequence of the nights events.
He looked at me shaking his head in disbelief.
“If I hadn’t been here to see it I would have a hard time believing it. This is incredible”.
Inside the runway next to the Kansas City locker room was a security guard since this was a restricted area to non-players. I asked him if he could get a note to Greg.
“I can’t guarantee he’s still available, but I’ll see what I can do,” he reported.
Standing in the hallway, I anticipated seeing my celebrity fraternity brother come out.
After a few minutes the large green door to the locker room swung open. A small gathering of what appeared to be family or friends of the ballplayers waited along with Teddy and myself.
I was excited thinking about the possibility of meeting up with Greg again and the thought of getting some players autographs, in particular, George Brett.
After all, I had a ball ready to sign. This would be a wonderful addition to the collection of signed baseballs my Dad had collected over the years from some of the games greatest players.
One thing I knew for certain, we didn’t have George Brett’s autograph.
And besides, my son also been given a hall of fame name and I wanted his signature in the worse way.
The electricity and excitement from the nights events still held me numb and shaky.
As I stood there waiting to see who emerged, I recall the flutter in my heart when the man himself, George Brett, strolled past the guard holding the door.
He was met by two beautiful blonde's who placed a box of candy and a bunch of flowers in each of his hands.
Am I seeing things I said to myself? Tell me I’m dreaming.
The three of them started walking in my direction. It didn’t take long before they were within a few feet of me. I don’t know where I got the courage to ask, but as he got to where I was standing, I blurted out, “ George will you sign my ball ?”
My sudden request was met with an annoyed look. I could read his body language, which was saying go away can't you see I don’t want to be interrupted by you or anyone else.
After his third step past me he suddenly stopped. He looked at me and I could see he had a change of heart.
In a soft voice he said, “ I’ll sign your ball. “
He passed the candy and flowers back to the girls and I handed him the ball. It took only a moment.He scribbled his autograph and placed the ball back in my hands, as he looked at me with his sky blue eyes. He said nothing, only winked at me and proceeded on his way.
For an instant I thought, wait until my Dad sees what I’ve got; George Brett’s autograph!
It was a wonderful moment thinking I would be able to share this with him, but the terrible reality of his death came back. He was gone. But was he really?
After that night, some how, some way, I know he’s OK.
I know he had kept his word once again. This was my sign. I had asked for it and he delivered.
That night I discovered faith is a wonderful feeling when it rings strong and true .
Dad, I thank you for restoring my faith.
I love you !
All these coincidences surrounding Dad dying on the thirteenth came to light exactly eleven years to the day after his death.
Once again my faith in Dad's message was reassured in that eventful night in Boston.
Clarence Fortin's friend of 22 years, and American baseball idol, Mickey Mantle died on August 13th. They died on the same day and incredible as it sounds from the same horrible disease, liver cancer!
Believe what you will.
But as for me, I sleep well these nights, because I know in my heart these truly were foul balls from heaven.
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|Reviewed by Asa Seeley
|few men have been so blessed...to have memories of a wonderful father is a gift from heaven. thanks for sharing
|Reviewed by Michelle Mead
|Wow! I loved this! Are you writing a book about your Dad? This, shortened, I bet could get into Guideposts or win their contest coming up in the summer. It has family, faith, life, death and love, all the things that make a story touch people and change their lives. This could help alot of people in a similiar situation. It really is wonderful, and I hope you do join that contest, I really think you would win. Thanks for asking me to read this, it has made a difference in my life, too, a story I will never forget. Blessings to you and yours, Michelle :)|