The Bayou Basher is on Fire

Iowa second baseman Mike Fontenot quietly had one of the best months of any player in the Cubs' farm system in June. The 5'8", 160-lb middle infielder batted a hefty .364 (28-for-77) in 26 games and is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak. Fontenot and Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua explain the reason why.

"The main thing we've done with Fontie," Joshua said, "is get him out of that little stand-still at plate. Before, he kind of jumped at the ball. What we've done is give him a knee-cock so that he won't jump out as quickly."

The knee-cock is a common technique taught by many hitting coaches and instructors alike. As Fontenot explains, the move is, "sort of a cocking mechanism that gets you loaded. It doesn't really affect your stance, you just cock the knee back a little bit."

Joshua, who spent four years as the Chicago White Sox' hitting coach from 1998-2001, said he first started to notice some inefficiencies in Fontenot's approach early on this season and has since worked to fine-tune them.

The work has paid off thus far.

The 26-year-old has a .409 on-base percentage after going 17-for-32 in his last 10 games. He finished 1-for-4 in Iowa's 5-3 win over Omaha on Friday night and has his longest hitting streak since his 2003 season at Double-A Bowie of the Eastern League, when he hit safely in 16 straight games.

"A lot of these guys' first move is directly toward the pitcher. You have to go back before you go forward," Joshua said.

"Some of these guys are also slow, so the knee-cock gives them a little ebb before they go at the ball. Without it, you're very vulnerable if it's not right down the middle. By establishing the knee-cock, it allows you to slow down, see the pitches, and make some adjustments."

Fontenot was a first-round draft selection of the Baltimore Orioles in 2001 and got a brief cup of coffee in the majors last season when he was promoted to Chicago in April before finishing the remainder of the year at Iowa. He hit .272 in his first season with the Triple-A Cubs after coming over in the trade that sent Sammy Sosa to the O's.

In the first month of this season, Fontenot garnered only 55 at-bats and made select appearances late in games off the bench. He began to see more playing time in May when teammate Ryan Theriot (who also played with Fontenot on LSU's 2000 College World Series Championship team) was brought up to the major league club.

"Getting more at-bats has certainly helped," Fontenot acknowledged. "For me, I'm just trying to have fun this year. I've been working hard on a lot of things. This is my third year in Triple-A, so it obviously makes everything all the more important."

Playing in his home state in front of many of his longtime fans, family and followers also seemed to help Fontenot thrive recently. He finished with 11 hits in 27 at-bats against New Orleans and was bombarded with interview and autograph requests from fans and local television outlets.

Being from an area where college baseball draws equally as much passion from the masses in the spring and summer as football does in the fall and winter, it was to be expected.

"I'm used to all the attention," said Fontenot, who hails from Slidell, La., directly north of New Orleans. "At LSU, we did lots of interviews. There were a lot of reporters there and we got a lot of attention, especially winning the College World Series as we did."

As a Tiger alumnus, he was often asked by reporters for his thoughts on the hiring of new LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri – one of Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry's closest friends and confidants.

"I thought it was a good hire," Fontenot said. "He went to LSU for a couple of years and I think his wife did, too. He did really well at Notre Dame, so it should be a good hire."

After getting a good workout at third base last year with Iowa, Fontenot has been used almost exclusively at second this season. He has five errors in 273 total chances with a .984 fielding percentage. This after committing 20 errors or more in two of his first three professional seasons.

For second basemen in the Pacific Coast League, only Memphis' Junior Spivey and Colorado Springs' Jayson Nix have more putouts than Fontenot's 112.

"He's slowing everything down both offensively and defensively," Joshua said. "At the plate, he isn't swinging at the bad pitches up in his eyes or down in the dirt. He's seeing those pitches because he's staying back a little. It's really a great attribute to Fontie at his age to be open to making adjustments at this point in his career. He's been a pleasant surprise."


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