My reporter’s inquisitiveness didn’t buy it. What did Fontana have to fear from being recognized, I wondered. Why shun the fame, the admiration, the awe of these people? Why hide his face if the sight of him will inspire them to tell everyone they know, “I sat near Ricky Fontana at dinner!”
The urgency with which he protected his privacy prickled me. Why should he need protection from me, who portrayed him so admiringly to the world?
Ricky Fontana was a national sensation. A nation weary of war, anxious about the economy, and cynical about the faction on the other side of the red-and-blue-state divide found in this statuesque small-town slugger the ingredients for an American icon. After all, who better to fill the shoes of astronauts, presidents, and war heroes than Ricky Fontana? Here was a fellow with the humble charisma of Lou Gehrig and the sex appeal of John Kennedy who was nearing a record as unreachable as Neil Armstrong’s lunar footsteps. Athletes make lousy role models; so many are archetypes of arrested youth: over-privileged, self-indulgent, and inarticulate. But when Ricky spoke, he spoke well, and when Ricky’s paycheck arrived, he sent most of it home to Mama.
America needed a champion, so we chose Ricky.
America chose a gay man.