Fontenot relishing role in Cubs organization

In 1998, Mike Fontenot was a junior at Salmen High School in Slidell.

The future LSU Tiger great was going about his business playing baseball for the Spartans. That same year, Chicago Cub slugger Sammy Sosa was locked in the most memorable home run race in baseball history.

Sosa and Mark McGwire locked horns in a race chasing Roger Maris' elusive single season home run record of 61. McGwire hit 62 first en route to 70 that season. Sosa ended up with 66 capping off one of the most historic summers in the game's history.

Little did the 18-year-old Fontenot realize that seven years later he would be involved in a trade that would take Sosa out of Chicago pinstripes.

But in early March, it came to pass. In a three-player deal, Fontenot, along with Jerry Hairston Jr. and fellow minor leaguer Dave Crouthers were traded from Baltimore for the Chicago right fielder. Fontenot, a two-year letterman at LSU and a member of the Tigers' 2000 national championship team was surprised when he heard the news.

"I got the call and heard he got traded," Fontenot said. "It was almost like I was in a dream for a couple of days. It was weird because the Orioles organization was all I had known being with them for three years."

While Fontenot was busy getting settled in Chicago's Triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, his family was equally excited back home in Louisiana.

"It was fun," Fontenot said. "It is a great thing to say I got traded for Sammy Sosa. I got family going around saying I got traded straight-up for Sammy Sosa. That is always fun."

Once with the Cubs, Fontenot said he immediately got accustomed to his new home.

"I kept asking myself who I knew in the Cubs organization," he said. "I didn't know anybody in the Cubs organization. Then it goes through and everything is going good. Then I find out I do know a few people. Ryan Theriot is there. Todd Walker is there now."

Since arriving with the Iowa Cubs, Fontenot has had the opportunity to play with the Cubs in Chicago at the Major League level on two occasions. He played four games in mid April (13-21) and three more in mid May (13-18). In seven games, he has two at-bats, a pair of walks and has scored four runs in pitch running situations.

While up with the Cubs, Fontenot said he has had the chance to spend some time with Walker, one of the most successful former LSU players in the pros.

"The only other times I had gotten to meet Todd was at alumni functions the last couple of years," Fontenot said. "Then I get into the clubhouse and he walks over and says hello. It has been great. When I got called up to the big leagues, everything went well and I got a chance to talk with him."

Fontenot said he got teased a bit about being from LSU.

"Of course everyone is bringing up the LSU brothers thing," he said. "We would be over there taking gro8nders at second. We would have Hairston over there saying ‘we got these LSU boys over here.' I mean we are proud of where we come from."

In 2004, Last season, Fontenot batted .279 in 136 games for Triple-A Ottawa with eight homers, 49 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. His strikeouts were high -- he whiffed 111 times -- but he didn't make an error. He alos set career highs in doubles (30) and triples (10). Fontenot ended the season by hitting .310 (18-for-58) in his last 14 games.

Fontenot said it has been enjoyable playing with a franchise as celebrated as the Cubs' organization.

"It is great, especially being from Louisiana," he said. "When you are there, you turn on WGN during the summer time when you are out of school, you grow up watching the Cubs. I have always seen the field and never had had a chance to go to it. It was great my first time I got called up. I walked out of the tunnel and into the dugout, you are kind of in awe. All the history, all the tradition of that place and everything that goes with it."

Wrigley Field is one of the oldest ball parks in the Major Leagues and is one of the most storied venues in all of sports. Fontenot admitted to some butterflies when he first took the field.

"Being at Wrigley Field definitely reminds me of playing at Alex Box almost," Fontenot said. "The fans are out there during BP (batting practice). They are all drinking beer having a good time and hooting and hollering. They are awesome. They love the Cubs. They are all over the place. Most teams have their local fans, but the Cubs are all over the place, just like LSU fans. You can go anywhere in the U.S. and you can find LSU fans."

While he has enjoyed just seven games up with the team at the Major League level, Fontenot hopes to get the opportunity to make his way back to the big show. Former teammate Aaron Hill got his chance at the "bigs" and is making the most of it with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Currently, Hill is batting .337 and has been up with the team for almost three months.

"When you get your chance to play, you have to make the most of it," Fontenot said. "I was so happy for Aaron when he got called up. He has been doing a great job up there right now. Every time I look up on TV he's got like four hits or something. It is crazy. I called him up and said ‘dude, I have got to start eating what you are eating.' We were laughing having a good time about it, but there have been a lot of younger guys getting up and getting a chance to play in the big leagues the past couple of years and have been doing well. I am looking forward to my chance to get the opportunity to play and take advantage of it."

As for Fontenot, through July 7, he was batting .288 with four home runs and 28 RBIs starting at second base.

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