LAFAYETTE — For Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux, the measure of a man is how he navigates the peaks and valleys of the journey.
That’s why Robichaux isn’t so concerned that most of sophomore outfielder Kennon Fontenot’s 39 career games have been spent in those valleys. It’s not the path that interests him. Instead, he focuses on the fact that Fontenot has continued to put one foot in front of the other to continue on his journey.
“Everybody has to walk a path to get to that point,” Robichaux said. “Sometimes it’s excruciating.”
It certainly has been painful for Fontenot up to this point, but there are signs better days are ahead. As he enters this weekend’s series against Georgia Southern (17-12, 6-6 Sun Belt), Fontenot is in the midst of the hottest stretch of hitting the Cajuns (19-10, 8-4) have ever seen out of him.
In his past seven games, including four consecutive starts, Fontenot has gone 6-for-17 (.353) with a pair of home runs, a double and five RBIs.
“The bottom line in all this is mental toughness,” Robichaux said. “You’ve got to hang on mentally. He’s been able to hang on mentally and hopefully all he needed was some more confidence.”
It’s a modest step in the right direction. But it could be hugely important for a player whose on field experiences with the Cajuns, up until those last seven games, had bordered on disaster.
“It’s a cruel game,” Robichaux said.
Fontenot knocked the ball around the yard fall for the Ragin’ Cajuns, and though he came to the Cajuns as a possible heir to Blake Trahan at shortstop, he also showed some ability in the outfield. He looked as if he’d put some of the issues that wrecked his freshman season behind him and was penciled in as the No. 5 hitter and opening day starter in left field.
Then he went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the first series of the season.
It was the worst possible way for Fontenot to start the year. He was a player who could’ve used some validation that he belonged after a rough freshman season.
Fontenot got a base hit in his first career at bat, a pinch-hit RBI single in the 2015 season opener against UTSA. That figured to be the first of many last season for the former Barbe Buccaneer, a prized signee who originally committed to play for Oklahoma State.
But things quickly fell apart. Mistakes started to pile up in the field for Fontenot, who committed four errors on 10 chances in his next three appearances.
Those struggles carried into the batter’s box. After picking up an RBI single in his first career at bat, he only came to the plate 27 more times the remainder of his freshman season, picking up five more base hits.
So Fontenot could’ve used a hot start at the plate. Instead, he went hitless in his first 17 at bats before finally picking up his first base knock of the season March 8 against Tulane.
“It happened again this year and I didn’t want last year to repeat itself,” Fontenot said. “So I went and worked.”
This is what Robichaux saw in Fontenot. He didn’t see the outfielder who was a career .125 hitter entering this year’s series against Little Rock or a player who was about to give up a game that had eluded him. He saw Fontenot get to work and try to solve the problem.
“From this point up it’s no longer about physical makeup,” Robichaux said. “The difference maker is from the neck up. This is what happens from here all the way up to the big leagues, the game flips on you from physical to mental.”
Fontenot remembered his freshman year, when Robichaux made a role for him at the end of the year despite his struggles at the beginning of the year.
“I just kept grinding through it,” Fontenot said. “I’d always come early and hit in the cage. I knew I’d get another shot and I knew when I got that shot I had to make it count.”
It started with a pinch-hit opposite field home run late in a blowout loss to Little Rock. What meant nothing in the scheme of a five-run loss might’ve held great importance to Fontenot.
Since then, Fontenot has emerged from his long stay in the valleys to be every bit the player the Cajuns expected him to be.
“You can’t get through tomorrow without walking through today,” Robichaux said. “
“Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it can press you down and beat you down. What you’ve got to hope you can do is not let it finish you.
“That’s the one thing he didn’t do: let it finish him.”