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Fonseca Is Living Up to His Motto


It isn't easy condensing your personal philosophy into one succinct phrase. Popeye lived by the motto, "I yam what I yam," but it was probably Popeye's publicist who chose those choice words. Hammer, the mainstream rapper, once told us he was "Too Legit To Quit." Now he's pushing fried chicken on TV.

Mando Fonseca has a motto, too, though it seems more sincere. For the last three years, the Tustin center fielder has scrawled the same six words under the brim of his baseball cap:

I will. I can. I am.

Simplistic? Might seem so, but the senior takes the motto to heart. He scribbles the words on every hat he owns. He recites the saying to himself whether he's in class, on the field or walking to his car. He swirls it around in his brain so it will sink into his subconscious.

Those who know him might be a bit confused. Isn't this the Confidence Kid we're talking about? The boy who struts to the plate in his flashy sunglasses? Who stares down pitchers?

I will? I can? I am? Why would he need a mantra like that?

The reasons, Fonseca says, are simple. Confidence doesn't always come naturally; sometimes it has to be cultivated. You need to practice positive thinking just as you do hitting or pitching. If you make believing in yourself a habit, worrisome thoughts stay away. Once your outlook improves, so will your performance.

Sure, that might sound like a lot of hooey, but consider Fonseca's statistics. He's batting .443. His on-base percentage is .581. In 31 games, he has struck out four times and has 28 walks. As the Tillers' leadoff batter, he is part of the reason teammate Derek Baker (batting third) compiled a county-leading 37 RBIs during the regular season.

"I know I can hit any pitcher--I believe that," Fonseca says. "I don't know if that's being cocky, but that's just how I feel."

He has a similar feeling going into Saturday's game--the Southern Section Division III final at Anaheim Stadium. Tustin will play La Quinta at 1 p.m. Fonseca says he is confident. No surprise there. He has felt that way before every playoff game--including the quarterfinal against top-seeded and previously undefeated Bishop Amat. Tustin won, 5-4.

"I'm always positive," Fonseca says. "If you're negative, negative things happen to you. Even if you're playing a big team like Bishop Amat, I'm confident in what I can do and what my team can do."

Though sometimes he needs a written reminder. Against Walnut a few weeks ago, Fonseca was trotting to center field at the start of the seventh inning when he took off his cap and glanced at his motto scrawled in blue. Moments later, after positioning himself closer to right field to adjust for the upcoming batter, the batter whacked a line drive straight to left-center.

"I'm like, 'Oh no! I can't believe it!' But I just ran as hard as I could," Fonseca said. With a headfirst dive, he made the catch--barely. "I looked at my hat again and I went, whoa! I will. I can. I am!"

Frank Fonseca, 20, says his little brother was always this way. It didn't matter that Mando was always the tiniest kid around--he insisted on playing on the same youth football team as his big brother. Every time Frank made a tackle, little Mando would be right behind--holding onto Frank's jersey, holding on for dear life.

"He's always been small," Frank says of Mando, 5 feet 7, 156 pounds. "But he plays like he has a 6-foot-2, 220-pound heart."

These days, Mando's heart is filled with pride, but also a trace of sadness. He ran into an old friend the other day, who had a lot of potential. He was a good athlete, a smart kid, but he got involved with a gang. He dropped out of high school during his sophomore year. Now when Mando sees him, he doesn't know what to say.

"It's really depressing," Fonseca says softly. "But when he dropped out, what could I do? I had to get away from him. I told him, 'I can't do this. I have a lot to look forward to in life.' "

A life that will benefit, perhaps, from a very special motto.

Barbie Ludovise's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626 or by calling (714) 966-5847.

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