The Osakis Silverstreaks and the New York Mills Eagles were playing a semifinal game in the state Class 1A baseball tournament on Friday at the Mini-Met in Jordan. The anticipation in state semis is higher than ever these days, as the winners get to play a championship game at Target Field.
"That would be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for any high school ballplayer," said Grayson Fortenberry, the senior first baseman for Osakis.
Osakis scored one run on three hits in Friday's first inning. The last of the hits was Fortenberry's infield single, which also turned out to be his last at-bat as a high-school player.
New York Mills was batting with one out in the second inning. Adam Patron hit a ball to Fortenberry's right. He knocked the ball down, grabbed it, saw pitcher Kilar Zimmel would be late covering first, and dived to tag the bag.
Fortenberry got the out. He also wound up in Patron's path and was kicked in the head. He was KO'd for a few seconds and on the ground for an extended period. Once Fortenberry steadied, he had to leave a 3-0 victory that gave Osakis (20-2) its date at Target Field.
"I was told this morning that there's no way I will be cleared to play Monday — not with the concussion rules they have now in high school," Fortenberry said Saturday. "It hurts, not being able to play this game."
Missing Monday morning's title game against BOLD is a disappointment for Fortenberry. It's not heartbreak. Grayson knows the difference, as do his older brother, Colter; his father, Mike; and other family members and friends.
They know heartbreak because on May 20, 2011, Diane Fortenberry, 51, took a quick trip from work at lunchtime to their home on Lake Osakis to let out Caesar, the family Weimaraner, and encountered Jeffery Brooks robbing the house.
Brooks, an ex-convict living in Alexandria, struck and killed Diane with a blunt instrument. Brooks was arrested a week later. He's serving a 35-year sentence for second-degree murder at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
"I try not to, I stay busy, but I think about it every day," Grayson said. "I do have it easier than my dad and my brother. My father lost the woman he loved for more than 20 years. And my brother was the first to come home."
On that Friday afternoon in May, two years ago.
Diane Mielke graduated from Osakis High School in 1977. She went to Alexandria Technical College for a degree in sales and marketing. One summer, she took a job as a cook at the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone Park. She became friends with a woman co-worker from Hattiesburg, Miss., and decided to go there to work for the winter.
That's where Diane met Mike Fortenberry. They were married in 1991 and moved to Tylertown, a small town in southeastern Mississippi that sits on the Louisiana border.
Colter arrived first, then Grayson. It was discovered at six months that Grayson had a brain tumor.
"The doctors didn't give him much chance initially, but it turned out to be benign," Mike Fortenberry said. "They removed the tumor and Gray was a normal, active toddler so fast it was amazing."
Grayson said: "This is, maybe, my third concussion. There's a little more space in there because they removed that tumor. The doctors say that might increase my chances for a concussion."
In 2005, the Fortenberrys' Tylertown home survived Hurricane Katrina without damage. "Until the power company started working to restore electricity in the area," Mike said. "Diane was in the front yard, doing some cleanup, and our house just exploded. Burned down."
In 2008, the Fortenberrys relocated to Diane's hometown of Osakis. Everyone was enthused over the move, especially Colter, a fanatic for hunting and fishing. He's going to be a senior at Southwest State in Marshall. Grayson will enroll there in the fall.
Monday, the Osakis senior will be hanging out on the top step of a Target Field dugout, cheering for the friends he has made in five years of school and baseball in Osakis.
"If we play like we always do, keep the ball low pitching, and make the plays in the field, we can win," Grayson said.
Sounds like Tom Kelly, another lefthanded first baseman.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org