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Fortenbery didn’t listen to Yogi Berra

It is a good thing that Natchez alderman Mark Fortenbery was not sitting in the Cleveland Indians’ dugout back in August 2001.

Up against the best team in the majors that year, the Indians were facing odds that only two teams in major league history had surmounted. In the seventh inning, the scoreboard showed their team down 14-2.

One more loss would sink their home record below .500, and rumors were already circulating that team manager Charlie Manuel’s head was already on the chopping block.

Only two teams had ever overcome a 12-run deficit to win. The Philadelphia Athletics did it in 1925 and the Detriot Tigers did it 1911.

No would have blamed the Indians if they had packed up their bats and set their sights on the next game or maybe even the next season.

That is what aldermen Fortenbery suggested Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission Members do Tuesday night when he recommended that the commission dissolve.

After meeting monthly for the last four years — after county residents voted overwhelmingly for a recreation complex in a non-binding referendum — the score looks about as bleak today for city-county recreation as that 14-2 game for Cleveland back in 2001.

Despite voters desires, officials from both the city and the county have “sat idle, doing nothing,” according to Fortenbery, who is the city’s recreation committee chairperson.

Recreation commission member Tate Hobdy came to the board Tuesday to discuss the possibility of hiring a joint city-county recreation director. It was the commission’s way of moving forward instead of spinning its wheels.

If the city and county cannot act soon and with the prospect that nothing will ever get done, Fortenbery suggested the commission give up and hit the showers.

Manager Manuel must have felt the same way in 2001 when he pulled his all-stars thinking the game had already gotten out of hand.

Indeed, there may have been a few Mark Fortenbery’s in some of the team standing in the Cleveland dugout 12 years ago.

But he wasn’t in first baseman Jim Thome, who hit two home runs that night. He wasn’t in Marty Cordova and Russell Branyan who both had homers of their own that helped pull the Indians within 14-9 after eight innings.

You wouldn’t have detected a speck of Fortenbery’s give-it-up attitude in Omar Vizquel, who hit a triple that cleared the bases and tied the game at 14 in the ninth.

No one would have mistaken Kenny Loftin for the Natchez alderman when he slid headfirst into home plate and propelled the Indians into the record book.

When the game concluded, some 20,000 Cleveland fans danced into the night. The newspapers called it one of the wildest wins in Cleveland’s history. The Seattle Mariners called it a fluke.

No matter what it was called, Yogi Berra was proved right once again that night.

Mayor Butch Brown suggested Tuesday night that unless the county “steps up and does something” maybe the commission should scale back its meeting schedule to once a quarter instead of once a month. Maybe so.

But for all of those local fans who voted for recreation in 2008, for all of the parents — including myself — who want their kids to learn those valuable lessons that can only be learned on the ball field, now is not the time to quit.

There are innings left to play.

Just ask the Cleveland Indians.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.