Fonville, Chad

Position: Second base, shortstop
Birthplace: Jacksonville

First, Middle Names: Chad Everette
Date of Birth:  March 5, 1971
Current Residence: Jacksonville

High School: White Oak High School, Jacksonville
College: Louisburg College, Louisburg, NC

Bats: S             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-6, 155
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 1999          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Montreal Expos, 1995; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1995-97; Chicago White Sox, 1997; Boston Red Sox, 1999

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
226   546    133     80       31        0          .244     .302     .269     0.0

In the City of Angels, Chad Fonville seemed heaven sent in the summer of 1995. He had spent most of his career in the remotest reaches of the minors. Few fans in Los Angeles had ever heard of him, but they soon loved the little guy who came off the bench to provide the spark the Dodgers needed to win their division. He hustled, swiped bases, got big hits, and exhibited a genuine enthusiasm for the game.

If heaven sent him, opposing pitchers dispatched him. Fed a constant diet of breaking balls, Fonville floundered the following year. His batting average plummeted. He was in the minors again before the season ended. Except for a few brief excursions back to the major leagues, that’s where he would remain until his retirement. He has spent the years since teaching, coaching and passing on his love of baseball to another generation.

Chad Everette Fonville was born in Jacksonville in 1971 to Charlie and Mary Yvonne Fonville. He was an all-conference baseball, basketball, and soccer player at White Oak High School and led the soccer team to a state championship in 1988.

Fonville attended Louisburg College, a private, two-year school in Louisburg, North Carolina, on a baseball scholarship. The switch-hitting shortstop hit .375 as a freshman in 1991 on a team that won 44 games and was ranked tenth in the nation among junior colleges. He was rated in the top 20 of junior-college players by Baseball America the following year when the San Francisco Giants chose him in the eleventh round of the amateur draft.

He spent the next three years on the lowest teams in the Giants’ farm system. Fonville hit over .300 at each stop and was among the leaders in stolen bases. The Giants, though,  never put Fonville on their major-league roster. That made him eligible in 1994 to be taken by another team. The Expos did, and he appeared in 14 games in Montreal before being waived in June and chosen by the Dodgers. According to the rules, such players have to remain on the major-league team for the season or be returned.[1]

Fonville was pressed into service on June 17 in Chicago after an injury to the Dodgers’ shortstop. He went four-for five. The ecstatic rookie called his mother after the game. He went three-for-four the next day and impressed Manager Tommy Lasorda with his speed, beating out two slow rollers. “The little guy might be there tomorrow,” he said of his new, 5-foot, six-inch shortstop. “He’s a streak of lightning going down the baseline.”[I]

He moved into the leadoff spot after slumping Delino DeShields went down with a leg ailment, and he continued to hit. Though his fielding was erratic, Fonville was batting .280 by mid-August as the Dodgers took over first place in their division. They had been a fourth-place team playing .500 ball when Fonville arrived. Lasorda even began treating the kid as his good-luck charm, removing Fonville’s hat and rubbing and kissing the top of his head when the team needed a big hit. What others saw as an exhibition of the manager’s over-the-top Dodger Blue spirit, the most-prominent black newspaper in town interpreted as a racial insult.

If Fonville minded, he didn’t complain publicly. He seemed to enjoy being the least likely success story in baseball. He had 12 at bats with the Expos when they put him on waivers. Before then, his career had consisted of 251 Class A games spread over three seasons. “I play hard every inning,” Fonville said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity to play here and I’m trying to take advantage of it. I’m having fun winning and being involved in a pennant race.”[II]

Though his future looked bright when the season ended, those four months would be the highlight of his major-league career. He was a player without a position when he reported to spring training in 1996. The Dodgers had resigned DeShields to play second and had signed free agent Greg Gagne for short. Fonville, Lasorda said, would be a “super” utility player.

Coaches lectured him during the exhibition season about being sullen and pouting over his status. He conceded that training camp was difficult, but he insisted that he was happy. “I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough. It’s not an easy job coming off the bench,” he said. “But I knew my role coming in. I knew I’d be a utility player.”[III]

Teammates’ injuries and slumps during the season once again gave him his chances, but opposing pitchers were ready the second time around. They were unrelenting with their breaking balls in the dirt that Fonville kept missing. He went into long hitting tailspins. That resulted in reduced playing time. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in September.

He spent two seasons in the minors before appearing in three games for the Boston Red Sox in 1999. He retired two years later after a couple of more minor-league seasons. “My body was changing and I was getting older,” Fonville said. “I was just playing for the love of the game. I just played until I couldn’t play and that was it.”[IV]

Fonville returned to Jacksonville in 2006 where has coached baseball at area high schools. “Baseball has given me a lot, and now it’s my turn to give back in any way I can,” said Fonville.[v] 

Footnote
[1] The Montreal Expos chose Fonville in the Rule 5 Draft, which has been held every December since the current rule was established in 1985. The rule, with roots that reach back to 1892, allows players more opportunities to crack big-league rosters and prevents teams from stashing talented players in the minor leagues. While tweaks have made to the format over the years, the basic premise of the Rule 5 Draft has remained the same over the past five decades. Players who have spent multiple years in the minors (the current threshold is four or five seasons, depending on the age they signed their first contract) that are not protected on their affiliate’s 40-man roster can be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.  A player selected in the draft is immediately added to his new team’s active roster, where he must remain for the entire season.

References
[I] Daley, Ken. “Fonville Making Persuasive Case for Playing Time.” Los Angeles Daily News, June 19, 1995.
[II] Malamud, Allan. “Notes on a Scorecard.” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1995.
[III] It’s Hard to Tell, But Fonville’s Happy.” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1996.
[IV] Miller, Chris. “Fonville: Baseball Had Been Good to Me.” Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, April 27, 2013.
[V] Lingafelt, Lance Cpl. Jared. “Former MLB Baseball Player Gives Back to Community.” Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, June 19, 2014. https://www.dvidshub.net/news/133829/former-mlb-baseball-player-gives-back-community.