Many thanks to the Cubs and Troy Tepley of Exponent PR for arranging this interview with Cubs infielder Mike Fontenot.
BCB: You were a number one draft out of LSU with the Orioles. Did being a number one draft put any more pressure on you when you came up out of school to pro ball? How did you feel about that? Did you expect to be a number one pick?
Mike: I don’t know if I expected it. I’m just glad that it happened. I try not to put any undue pressure on myself coming up or whatever… people would always try to be like he should be doing this or that because number one pick… I just try to go out there and play baseball every day and try not to worry myself too much about that.
BCB: What did it feel like when you got traded because a lot of guys say there is an adjustment there. You were traded in the deal for Sammy Sosa. Did you think that was a big deal coming to the Cubs and what kinds of adjustments did you have to make coming to a different organization?
Mike: I was shocked a little bit. A lot of people, the team you get drafted by you think you’re going to play with them for a while, or stay a few years. I was in Florida at the time. I was training, getting ready for Spring Training, actually and like I said, I was shocked a little bit at first but then you know, it’s a good organization to come over to and make a fresh start. Give me a chance to go out, especially in the National League… that was one of the adjustments I had to make. I played third base a lot my first year when I came over and starting to move around, learning the National League game, those types of things. Those are the main adjustments.
BCB: So you got called up for a few games in ’05 and then in ’06 you didn’t play in the major leagues at all. Did that start you wondering when am I going to get back here, how am I going to make it back, what do I have to do to make it back?
Mike: A little bit. Coming up in ’05 got a little taste, a cup of coffee, I guess you can say. And then the next year I got called up at the trading deadline and that’s when they traded for Izturis. They actually called me in and said you’re getting called up and then it didn’t work because they made the trade. Then I pulled my hamstring two weeks later, so who knows what might have happened that year. I might have been called up in September, but I ended up having a decent season. I also always wondered. I wanted to get back, trying to do every little thing I could to get people to notice and try to get back up to the big leagues.
BCB: What’s it like playing for Lou?
Mike: It’s been fun. He’s a good manager. He’s a character, too. He’s got his little quirks. He’ll get on umpires. Everyone knows from all the clips of him over the years. He’s a good dude. He’s intense. He wants to win, as we all do and he’s doing everything he can to do that.
BCB: Does he always let you know what’s expected of you, not just from a day to day basis, but also in general for the whole season, what your role is on the team and do you know what to expect all the time?
Mike: Yeah, most guys do. That’s one of the nice things about this team, everybody kinds of knows where they stand. They know what positions we’re playing, not necessarily positions but the role you’re having on the team. Like going into Spring Training I was just trying to make a utility spot and play a little shortstop in Spring Training and show them I could move around if they had to, even though we have other guys who, we have a very versatile team. I definitely think he lets everyone know, he starts at the beginning at Spring Training what’s expected of you to play for the Cubs, to play for Lou.
BCB: In terms of being a fan I like watching you play and I like the game you bring on the field. What did you know about Cubs fans and about Wrigley Field before you came and is that meeting your expectations or is it different from what you expected? What’s it like for you personally to come play here every day?
Mike: You always hear when you’re other places of how the fans are really passionate about the Cubs and Chicago is and I never really knew until I got here. It’s unbelievable the volume we get. I’ll tell anyone, we’ve been away on trips, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, everywhere. A lot of times there’s more Cubs fans than the home stadium. I was just telling these guys [there were three other people with Mike], we were playing the Marlins on Sunday in the 9th inning and they’re singing "Go Cubs Go" the whole stadium.
BCB: I can tell you from watching the game on TV it sounded like a home game. It must have been incredible.
Mike: Oh, it’s good. The fans are so good. They’re what makes it so good. Anywhere we go they love the Cubs so much that they’re always pulling for us it’s almost like a little boost of energy there for us.
BCB: What’s it like playing with Ryan Theriot who you played with in school?
Mike: It’s fun. We didn’t grow up together, but we knew of each other in high school, Little League. I imagine I played against him coming up through all that too, living in close areas. It’s been good. We got a chance to win a national championship in college together and last year, actually in AAA we got to play a little bit there but then last year we started playing in the big leagues together and it’s been a great experience so far. Just from the standpoint of our families, it’s been so fun just to get together.
BCB: I read an article last year that said you watch his kids sometimes. Is that true?
Mike: I think that was the "Sports Illustrated" where it said I’m more of a kid than his kids. That he came in there and I was jumping on the bed.
BCB: That’s the one. So, is it true?
Mike: Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say that I was jumping on the bed. I mean, I might have done it once or twice but Houston, his son, was the main one jumping on the bed and I’m like hey watch out and he started getting a little crazy. But I’ll go over there, spend time, hang out. And he just had another one, so they have three now. I’ll go over there and hang out every once in a while.
BCB: What’s it like for you preparing for a game every day depending on whether you’re starting, not starting? How do you prepare differently for those two because you have so many different roles and you’re not starting every day.
Mike: Every day I come to the field with the frame of mind that that I’m playing. Some days you know, like I know I don’t play against lefties really ever. So I know if there’s a lefty I probably won’t be playing but I’ll still try to keep the mind frame that at some point during the game I’m going to be going in. I just try to stay mentally prepared that way. Before the game I still take BP, do my stretching, warm up and all that kind of stuff we do before. That’s pretty much my regular routine if I find out I’m starting. But if I ever look at the lineup and I know I’m not playing as the game’s going along, I’m usually, say around the third inning I’ll go in, move around a little bit, stay loose. Go ride on the bike or do the elliptical machine or get stretched out by one of our trainers, hit off the tee in the cage. Or if we’re on the road get in the cage and one of our coaches will throw if we want that. That’s just one way we try to stay loose throughout the game if we’re not playing other than just sitting there watching the game and staying in it as much as you can.
BCB: I noticed on Sunday when Aramis Ramirez hit the double that broke the tie, they took a shot of all you guys in the dugout and everybody was right off the bench cheering for everybody. That really shows how tight you are as a team.
Mike: It’s a really close-knit team I think. Last year with the new manager and new faces and everybody didn’t know what to expect but as the season went along everybody started to gel a little bit, really get to know each other. And we had a good run last year. And coming into spring this year we had pretty much the same team, we had a couple new faces but not as many and we all kind of knew what to expect of our manager and knew how he did things, how to stay prepared because you know what kind of moves he might make. And that’s just one of the things that I think shows what a good team we are. We’ve got a lot of versatility. We have guys who can come off the bench and step right in and get big hits like Daryle did the other night, the big home run he hit. It speaks volumes of how the team goes.
BCB: You know one of the broadcasters calls you Little Babe Ruth.
BCB: You’ve hit more home runs, honestly, than maybe a guy your size may be expected to hit. What do you do that allows you to hit for that kind of power?
Mike: I don’t know. All I’ll say is I stay in the weight room. I’ve always been good at that through the season. That helps. I think I’ve just been blessed with, I have pretty good bat speed over the years, I have the ability to hit the ball out. Growing up I’ve always hit a fair number of home runs in Little League and high school, college, though the ranks I’ve always hit at least a number of home runs so I’ve always had that. So for me personally, it wasn’t a big deal to hit however many number of home runs I’ll hit. I just accredit it to those types of things.
BCB: Are you surprised at how well the Cubs have done this year? You guys knew you had a good team, or felt you had a good team but as a fan, it’s way beyond my expectations. Are you surprised at how well it’s been going so far?
Mike: I’m not going to say I’m surprised. Like I said, I knew we were going to have a good team going into this season. Jim Hendry and Lou and everyone got together and they put a good team together. There are a lot of guys who really care about winning and want to got o the playoffs and want to go deep in the playoffs. That’s our mind frame to go as far as we can. We’re going to try to do it for Chicago this year. So I won’t say that I’m surprised. I’m very happy where we stand going into the last month of the season.
BCB: Let’s turn this to the reason that Troy got in touch with me, yes, it's a commercial deal. You deal with AcuVue. Tell us a little bit of what that’s about.
Mike: In 2003 I knew my vision wasn’t too good; I knew I needed to get contacts. I finally went in, got some contacts. Actually had the AcuVue 2 contacts, that’s one of the first ones they got to me and there was an immediate turnaround. I’d put the contacts in and go out on the field and I could actually see the spin of the ball, all kinds of things like that, I could see it. It made a world of difference when I was hitting. Toward the end of the year, I ended up hitting .325 that year so I turned that around. Actually a couple of years ago I started getting a little fuzziness again so I went to the eye doctor and I tried on a few different contacts and I tried on the AcuVue Advanced for Astigmatism and that’s the one I wear now and that one was a world of difference. I got all my clarity – it was clear, real crisp and from then on it was even that much more…
BCB: It sounds like such a simple thing –- see the ball, hit the ball.
Mike: That’s the main thing. That’s our livelihood. Baseball players, if you can’t see, especially at this level, every level it makes a world of difference but especially when you get up here and guys are throwing 98 with a slider at 90 and things like that, the better you can see is really going to make a difference. It has really made a difference for me over the years. I make sure every year I have to go get an eye check up. I’ve got to make sure my eyes are where I want them to be so I’ll be able to play at my top level that I want to.
BCB: So this isn’t just an endorsement. It’s something you use and it has helped you.
Mike: Oh definitely. It has definitely helped me. For a lot of people, they don’t ever go get checked or they don’t know until they put the contacts in and they can see and it’s like wow. I do a lot of hunting in the off season. If I can’t see the duck going by…
BCB: Do you have any predictions for the rest of the season?
Mike: Yeah, we’re probably going to play real hard the rest of the season. That’s going to be my prediction.
BCB: You’ve seen the enthusiasm of the fans and people on road games and there’s only going to be more as time goes on.
Mike: It’s exciting It’s very exciting. Everywhere we go, anything that has anything to do with Cubs baseball right now is very exciting. The old cliché, we’re taking it a day at a time. But we’re really looking forward to as the season goes on.
BCB: You guys were lucky to get out of Miami Sunday night. There’s a tropical storm coming in.
Mike: I was looking at the sky when we were at the airport…
BCB: Was it weird when they had that rain delay when it wasn’t raining? That was kind of strange.
Mike: It was. Down in Florida it will pour for 20 minutes and then it’ll be fine. I guess they thought it was going to rain. They actually told us around 12:40 that it may rain so they pushed the game back to 1:30 just in case. And nothing came and we had a good day there.
BCB: I imagine it’s much more fun coming to the ballpark when you’re winning like this.
Mike: It’s a lot easier. It’s a lot of fun.