The former West Orange Warrior was rewarded for his diligence when he made his Major League Baseball debut for the Los Angeles Angels May 22.
Editor's note: The Los Angeles Angels optioned Nolan Fontana to Triple-A Salt Lake May 30, after this column had been written.
There were plenty of baseball people who believed Nolan Fontana was Big League-ready when he graduated from West Orange High in 2009.
Warriors head coach Jesse Marlo was among them.
“He definitely could have played in the infield in the Big Leagues right out of high school,” Marlo said.
Because of that, there was a time when Marlo thought Fontana would be the first player he coached to make it to The Show. After three standout years with the Florida Gators, Fontana had been taken in the second round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft by the Houston Astros.
But with the Astros’ depth in the infield combined with his struggles at the plate, Fontana always faced an uphill battle. Instead, Mason Williams would become the first former Warrior to break through in the summer of 2015, and for a time, it remained to be seen whether Fontana would top out at the Triple-A level.
When the Los Angeles Angels claimed him off waivers in November, though, there was the feeling that a fresh start with a different organization was the ticket.
And on May 22 — just short of five years to the day that Fontana was drafted in 2012 — Marlo was in the stands in St. Pete when his former standout made his Major League debut for the Angels in a road game against the Tampa Bay Rays after being called up from Triple-A Salt Lake City.
The persistence of the Winter Garden native has finally paid off.
“He’s fought through adversity and he’s had a tougher road then others,” Marlo said. “I always had a good feeling that he was going to make it.”
It remains to be seen how long Fontana’s stay in the Bigs will last. In 14 at-bats so far, he has just one hit — but that one hit was a memorable one. Fontana’s first hit as an Angel was a solo home run against the Miami Marlins May 26.
To his credit, some of those outs have been well-hit balls. What’s more, it’s always been his glove work, as well as his ability to get on base, that has helped Nolan stand out and likely were part of the reasoning for his call-up.
However long Fontana’s stay — and hopefully it is a long one — there will be another number retired next spring at Heller Bros. Ballpark on the campus of West Orange High.
Like he did with Williams’ No. 9 in the spring of 2016, Marlo plans to retire Fontana’s No. 4 at the Warriors’ home-opener next season.
The work ethic and blue-collar mentality the former star for West Orange brought to the field each day is something Marlo hopes he can pass down to the players in his program.
“(Fontana) refused to let anybody give less than a 100% on the field,” Marlo recalled. “If you weren’t (giving 100%), he was going to let you know about it.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].