By Bob Behre
Charting Shayne Fontana’s unusual journey through three years of college baseball requires adept use of GPS, but the theme running through it all has been the North Hunterdon grad’s productive bat.
Fontana just concluded an outstanding summer season in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, earning the ACBL’s Most Valuable Player award this week.
“I didn’t even know they had an MVP award,” said Fontana. “That was pretty cool.”
Fontana, coming off a very good junior season at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, wasn’t a hard selection for the ACBL coaches. He batted .359, hit six HRs and drove in 26 runs in just 30 games for the Allentown Railers. The Railers went 22-9 and won the regular season championship for a third straight year in the six-team league.
Fontana, a 2015 North Hunterdon grad, was among the ACBL league leaders in several offensive categories. He led the league in runs-scored (31), RBI, triples (5) and stolen bases (17). He was second in the ACBL in hits (42) and tied for third in home runs and slugging (.632). His batting average ranked fourth in the league.
“The pitching was pretty good,” said Fontana. “Each team pretty much had two aces.”
The Santy Gallone Most Valuable Player Award goes to the ACBL’s top player after a vote by the league’s field managers. Fontana also hit a grand slam and hit for the cycle in a game during his remarkable season with Allentown.
Fontana’s summer excellent also earned him inclusion on the Perfect Game/Rawlings Second Team Summer Collegiate All-America. Fontana joined the Railers after playing for the Jersey Pilots in the summer of 2017.
Fontana’s college career began at Division 3 Kean University in Union, N.J. where the 6-0, 200-pound center fielder made impressive progress on the field for a freshman. He batted .295 with 41 hits, scored 22 runs, had five doubles, a triple and drove in 15 runs. He reached base at a .355 pace.
But Fontana struggled initially with the adjustment from high school and his academics suffered.
“I struggled in the classroom at Kean,” said Fontana. “I was ineligible in the fall (sophomore year), so went to Morris. I just went on from there.”
Fontana more then went on from there. He buckled down and added the title “good student” to his impressive baseball resume. He made the dean’s list both semesters at Morris, took 40 credits and graduated with a two-year degree in the spring.
“It was a matter of learning how to manage my time and when to do the work and when to have fun,” he said.
The former Lion’s batting prowess elevated a few notches at the JUCO in 2017. Fontana batted .368, hit three HRs and drove in 38 runs in 45 games. He also mashed for 50 hits, drew 26 walks, scored 45 runs and stole 20 stolen bases. His well-rounded game also included a gaudy .471 on-base percentage and a .559 slugging percentage. That produced an eye-popping 1.030 OPS.
That big season at Morris drew the interest of Lynn University. “The coach from Lynn saw me play for Morris and invited me down here,” said Fontana.
Fontana’s first season at Lynn last school year was an impressive one as well. He batted .322 for the Division 2 Fighting Knights, hitting six HRs and driving in 28 runs in 47 games. He also scored 35 runs and stole nine bases.
Equally telling, the Criminal Justice major continued to shine in the classroom, making the dean’s list again. “I’m planning to graduate on time in the spring. I’d like to work as a detective or in the state police.”
Whether Fontana’s draft prospects develop will surely depend greatly on his senior season, but he’s already had some interactions with scouts.
“I haven’t heard much yet but I have talked to the Reds in the past,” he said. “I hope they come out and watch with other scouts.”
Fontana’s take on his pro prospects may be a bit modest. After he received an ACBL Player of the Week award in July, his Allentown manager, Dylan Dando, was effusive in an interview with the Allentown Morning Call.
“Shayne Fontana is one of the best three players we’ve ever had,” said Dando. “He’s right at the top of the list. He’s a definite pro.” Another one of the critical ingredients to Fontana’s well-rounded game is his outstanding defense in center field.
Fontana said where he saw a noticeable jump in the competition from the Division 3 to Division 2 level was on the mound.
“The pitchers, for sure,” said Fontana. “The pitchers have much better command. They throw strikes.”
Those strikes have seemed to be to Fontana’s liking. It will be fun to watch where the former Lion goes from here.