Fontenot Gets the Call

CHICAGO - When the Cubs placed Todd Walker on the 15-day DL and called up Mike Fontenot from Triple-A on Monday, they replaced one former LSU star second baseman with another on their 25-man roster.

The 24-year-old Fontenot was a first round draft pick in 2001 by Baltimore. He spent last year at Triple-A Ottawa in his third season in the minor leagues, placing third in the International League in triples (10) and fourth in games played (136). After hitting .279 there, he was traded with Jerry Hairston and RHP David Crouthers for one of the most popular icons in Cubs history in Sammy Sosa.

"It's definitely a cool thing (to be traded for someone of Sosa's stature)," Fontenot said. "My agent called and said I was involved in a trade for Sammy Sosa. Regardless of the circumstances, that's something you can tell your kids and grandkids about. He's had a few good years obviously."

As is often the case when prospects are traded, Fontenot was caught by surprise.

"I didn't see it coming," he said. "I had heard some rumors about Sosa being traded with Hairston's name involved, but never my name specifically. At the same time, you get over all that and realize it's a pretty nice thing."

With three years of college at LSU and three full seasons in the Orioles' farm system, Fontenot isn't exactly used to organizational changes. He says coming to Chicago will be a new beginning.

"I'm excited about it," Fontenot said. "When I was traded here, I realized I'd be getting a new start. Of course I learned a lot of things with the Orioles and had three good years with them, and I thank them for what they've done for me. Everything up to this point has been great. I'm looking forward it."

Fontenot committed 18 errors two years ago at Double-A Bowie and 25 in his rookie season in 2002 with Class-A Frederick. In his first Spring Training with his new club this year, Fontenot spent most of his time working on defense.

"You can always be more consistent with your defense," said Fontenot, who added the differences in coaching between the Cubs and Orioles varied little.

"I haven't really seen any big difference yet," Fontenot said. "The way I look at baseball, all the fundamentals you learn sort of stays the same wherever you go. Everyone has their own philosophy, but we're roughly all around the same area."

After being assigned to Iowa at the beginning of the year, Fontenot appeared in all four games in the Cubs' infield. He started the first three games at third base for the first time in his career and then was moved back to second, his original position, in Sunday's series finale at Albuquerque.

"I took the majority of groundballs at second base in the spring," said Fontenot. "But I played a few games at third. It was just a situation where I'd play second base one day and third the next. I'd rather stay at second base, but I'll be glad to play wherever they need me. I'm always up to learning new positions, because it can help me out in the long run."

While at Iowa, Fontenot received tutoring from a fellow Louisianan, hitting coach Pat Listach.

"It was great working with him," Fontenot said. "He's from Louisiana like I am, so he was always throwing in things of that nature. He and Mike Quade are two guys who know a lot about baseball."

Of course, Fontenot is no stranger to coaches who know a lot about baseball. His head coach at LSU was the legendary Skip Bertman, who led the Bengal Tigers to five National Championships and 11 College World Series appearances. Bertman retired in 2001, right before Fontenot was drafted.

"Coming out of LSU, I'll always remember my first appearance in instructionals when the coaches were teaching us things," Fontenot reminisced. "It was very good to feel that I had already been taught a lot of that stuff. Pretty much everything I learned at LSU, I bring with me here today."

Fontenot hails from Slidell, La., just north of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. He still calls the area home in the offseason.

"Well, I grew up in Slidell, but I have a lot of family all across the state," explained Fontenot. "It seems I'm everywhere: Lafayette, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, etc. In the offseason, I like to do a little hunting and fishing; it's a Louisiana thing, you know.

"Obviously I'm of the outdoors type, so I like to ride boats and four-wheelers. I always visit with my aunts and uncles whenever I'm home. And of course I get together with a lot of the guys I played with at LSU and in high school. You always like to catch up with people."

When not in the dugout or in the Cubs' infield at Wrigley Field, expect Fontenot to have a radio or headphones close by.

"I love to just listen to music and relax," Fontenot said. "I like the Dave Matthews Band a lot. I listen to everything from rap to classic rock and a little bit of country music. I go with whatever mood I'm in."

Fontenot recorded a hit in his first three games at Iowa this season. He hopes his stint with the big league club isn't short-lived.

"I try to work hard every day on my fielding and hitting," said Fontenot, "and just keep on hitting the weight room.

"It's all about heart. I will always keep my ears open and I will always keep my eyes open."

When it comes to Mike Fontenot, Cub fans will be keeping their eyes open as well.

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