Friday, May 24, 2013

An Interview with Astros Shortstop Nolan Fontana

Nolan Fontana was the last of my player interviews. Unfortunately, our time was somewhat short so I didn't get quite as much of a feel for who he is as a person as I would have liked to. The one takeaway I had is that he is all business when it comes to baseball. I definitely got the impression that failure is not an option for Fontana.

Rodney Linares often mentions Fontana and Andrew Aplin in the same breath. He bestows upon the duo what is for him the ultimate compliment - Baseball Player. According to Linares, "He's one of those special guys. Like Aplin. First off, he's a baseball player. Plays the game the right way. He could be hitting a buck twenty and you wouldn't notice he's hitting a buck twenty. He still goes out there and plays hard." Linares went on to say, "He walks more than any human being alive." And that isn't always a good thing because Linares wants to see Fontana be more aggressive with a 3-1 count, "There's going to be times when that 3-1 pitch is the pitch that you need to get on and drive it and hit it hard somewhere."

Hitting coach Darryl Robinson calls him "the most patient hitter I've ever seen," going on to say, "He does not go away from his zone. He stays in his zone which I really, really like. He's more aggressive this year but he's still getting his walks and he's not swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He's a hitter. He's definitely a hitter."

Of his defense, Linares says, "Defensively, he's solid," but goes on to say that he needs to work on not rushing the back hand play and getting quicker with the first step on the back hand. He went on to speak of how proud he was of Fontana for making a great backhand play in the hole with a man on first the previous night, showing "really good baseball instincts."


Nolan Fontana - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Let's see what Fontana had to say (edited for brevity and clarity) ~

What has he accomplished so far this season: "It’s only thirtysomething games into the season [38 at the time of the interview] so I think I’ve accomplished the fact that I’ve maintained my body. I think that’s a big part, especially later in the year. Being my first full season, it’s something that I feel is really important. I’ve heard from guys who have played full seasons before. It’s the most important thing. Take care of your body because of the long grind. I realized that by listening to other guys. Like I said I haven’t been through it yet, but I think that’s the biggest thing. Just got to keep eating right, working out when you need to and things like that. Everything else will take care of itself."

On having almost twice as many walks as hits in his first season: "Last year was a great experience for me. My body was beat. I was done. 70 games in college seems like a long time and then you’ve got to revamp and load up for another 50 games. It was eye-opening for me so that’s why this off-season was really important to me. Took a lot of advice in spring training about hitting and locked in on what everybody is teaching. Like I said it’s a long season and there will be ups and downs, but I’m excited to keep going."

Was he surprised to go straight to a full season team last year?: "Wherever they put me I was just going to play hard. I was fortunate to go to Lexington. I had a good time there."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "Aplin. We live together and we keep each other uplifted all the time. We’re always just joking around together. That’s our personality. We keep each other calm and sane. I love the kid. He’s a great guy. I’m sure he feels the same way. That’s who’d I’d have to say makes me laugh the most."

What does he feel he brings to the game?: "I feel like I’m just going to go out, I’m not going to surprise you in a game, but if you watch me over and over again, I think that you will see a player that just plays hard, that plays the game the right way. And I’m sure there’s a lot of players out there that have all the talent in the world and there’s just something that they don’t have and that’s just playing the game hard and the right way every day. You’re going to have the 0-for-fours. You’re going to have the four-for-fours. You just have to understand that. You have to go about your business the same way every single day. That’s something I do and that’s something I feel like I will always do."

Something that most people don't know about him: "I’m an unbelievable ping-pong player. Unbelievable ping-pong player. [You could take on the Chinese team?] Absolutely. No doubt.

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "Be around the game of baseball. I don’t know. When that time comes, I’ll find out. But I’ll definitely be around the game of baseball. There’s too much passion for it for me not to be around it whether I’m playing or something else so that’s what I’ll do."

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Linares told me that Fontana is doing a very good job, maybe too good, "I don't want to lose him that quick. Hopefully, he stays here for a little bit longer and continues to get better." But he knows that Fontana is hungry, "He wants it as bad as anybody. Nolan and Aplin both have a chance to be pretty good baseball players. Big league baseball players." Having seen both Aplin and Fontana in action, I would not doubt Linares' assessment.

Thank you for your time, Nolan, and the best of luck as the season unfolds.

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