Fontana – Joshua Martino (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

Every time an athlete comes out, he’s usually retired or
never had that large a career to begin with. It’s a step forward, to be sure,
but a somewhat disappointing one. Not one currently-rostered major player has
ever stepped forward regardless of the rumors dogging him (yes, I’m looking at
you, Mike Piazza and Troy Aikman). But things are different in Joshua Martino’s
engrossing baseball novel, Fontana.

Ricky Fontana is not only a New York Mets major leaguer, but
he’s also spoiling to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Enter one of
his biggest fans, sportswriter Jeremy Rusch, an uncharming alcoholic whose
marriage is on the rocks. Still charmed by the magic of the game, Rusch cheers
Fontana on from his column—but unexpectedly gets the biggest sports story of
the year when he stumbles on Fontana kissing his boyfriend right on the street.
Drunkenly, Rusch runs with it and must cope with his guilt as Fontana suffers
the consequences of being dragged out of the closet.
Fontana is an engrossing read that captures not only the Boys of Summer vibe of the game but
also does a wonderful job in depicting what might happen should a major leaguer
ever come out. From the marketing (pink Mets t-shirts that sell like hotcakes)
to the nasty jeers from the crowd to All-Star Game dustups, Martino doesn’t
miss a trick. Crisply written and well-paced, Fontana has a reckless,
threatening atmosphere as if the whole thing might explode at any minute. 

The character of
Ricky Fontana may slide toward the immensely talented superhero athlete
stereotype, but Martino picks that grounder up by giving him a genuinely naïve
side when it comes to love and his relationship with boyfriend Peter. In fact,
if Fontana has a fault, it’s that this isn’t explored in as much detail as
Rusch’s marriage troubles—which seem far less interesting in comparison. That
minor complaint aside, Martino drives this story with relentless determination,
pushing Fontana and his accomplishments past the petty politicking of the
clubhouse, the mean-spirited team pranks, the hurtful fans and the outright
dangers of the diamond and lets us see how Ricky Fontana is an inspiration to
gay men and women everywhere even though that may not mean much to the guy
who’s the butt of all the jokes.

Martino almost let me down at the end, which leads you to
assume Fontana has become a casualty of his fame, but I should have had more
faith. He pulls it out in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, three balls
and two strikes.

And the slow jog towards home plate was never sweeter.

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©, 2012,
Jerry Wheeler

 

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