Mind Game

Las Lomas (Calif.) outfielder Diallo Fon has all the physical tools, but his mental maturity is what makes him one of the nation's top prospects.

This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

Diallo Fon didn't need his memory jogged this preseason, but it happened anyway. The Las Lomas senior center fielder felt like getting some work in at a batting cage and stopped by a place in San Ramon he hadn't visited in at least seven years.

As soon as Fon (whose full name is pronounced dee-AH-lo fawn) walked through the door, all the memories came flooding back.

"The last time I was there, my mom took me," recalls Fon, 18, who is rated the nation's No. 44 prep baseball prospect in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. "I remember we went because I was struggling so badly at the plate that I was crying about it. It made me reflect on just how much my mom has been there for me. She's been an incredibly inspirational person to me. She went to every Little League and Pony League game. Of all the people I owe, I owe her the most."

Wanda Fon isn't the only person who goes to see her son play these days. Scouts are enamored with his play as well. And though he has committed to play college ball at Vanderbilt, he could also be an early-round pick in June's Major League Baseball Draft.

A 2004 AFLAC All-American and a 2005 Baseball America preseason second team All-American, Fon is a scholastic baseball celebrity. And he draws a crowd.

"Random people come up to me at school and talk to me about my future — it's actually pretty awkward," says the 6-foot, 195-pound Fon, who batted .357 with four homers, 12 RBI, 12 steals and 18 runs in just 20 games as a junior. "Honestly, when stuff like that happens, I just change the subject. I talk about some other player I know. I talk about some other prospect."

Such diversions don't last long. Fon's stellar play keeps bringing him back to the forefront.

"He's a threat every time he comes to the plate," says Las Lomas eighth-year head coach Dan Ward, 40. "He can turn a walk into a triple with his speed. He's instant offense."

Technically, Fon is instant everything. Forgive the cliché, but he is the prototypical five-tool player.

Yet perhaps even more thrilling than the fact that Fon hits for average, hits for power, owns a strong throwing arm, scorches the basepaths and plays excellent defense is the fact that he already understands the game behind the game. He grasps that his head must remain squarely on his shoulders in order for the hype to amount to anything more than talk.

"I remember I used to have this Little League coach who used to constantly say, ‘This game is mental,'" says Fon. "We were all like 10 or 11 years old, and we got so sick of him saying it that we didn't really hear it. He used to say it every five seconds. You know what? He was 100 percent right."

Clearly, Fon can hear his old coach now. The proof is in his perspective.

"My outlook is, if I'm not scoring runs and I'm not driving in runs, I'd better go take them away in the field," he says. "There's not any one thing I look to do. At the plate, I stay relaxed and stay out of a mindset where I let emotions get involved. If I hit angry, I won't perform."

Further proof lies in his analytical foundation and his refusal to panic in the face of failure.

"I need to be more consistent, especially early in the year," says Fon, who earned first team All-League honors as a junior and sparked the Knights to the North Coast Section 2A title as a sophomore. "I don't see the ball well on the outside corner until about mid-June, and I don't drive the ball to the opposite field until late summer. I think the transition from swinging wood eight months a year to swinging aluminum for the high school season is difficult. The aluminum makes me pull-happy."

Things won't get any easier this season. Truth is, Fon will be lucky if he sees many pitches anywhere near the plate this spring, let alone over the heart of it.

"He's not going to see a lot of strikes, and he won't be challenged with fastballs," says Ward. "He's going to have to be patient and go the other way. Hopefully, we won't have the Barry Bonds syndrome of walks this year."

If that happens, lesser-known Knights will have to make opposing pitchers pay for putting their superstar on base. Not that Fon carries himself differently than his dugout mates. And likewise, the rest of the Las Lomas roster understands the unique opportunity to share a uniform with such a rare talent.

"I think everybody realizes his potential and tries to feed off him," says Ward. "This year is all about being at the right place at the right time. There are so many scouts and recruiters out to see him every game that it's great for the school and great for the team. You never know who might take notice of your play when someone happens to be there to watch Diallo."

Fon, whose father, John, is from Cameroon, understands his place in the grand scheme of baseball blue-chippers as well.

"There's always somebody out there who's better than you who's working harder than you, so you have to think of yourself with that in mind," says Fon, who spent last summer playing for the NorCal Baseball Club. "This past summer, I played in games where everybody was at my ability or above. That helped me a lot as far as understanding where I need to get. You still gotta compete, no matter how good you get."

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