THE NO NO
1979. A summer day in upstate New York, the air thick with humidity and expectation. As the decade crept to a close the pop melodies of The Knack and disco grooves of Sister Sledge were being elbowed aside by the bold sounds of urban emcees. Simultaneously at the theatres, "Apocalypse Now" tried to articulate the nation's bleary anguish of its first military defeat. All the while, rampant inflation fueled economic ambivalence.Once again, Syracuse families seeking a diversion from life’s vicissitudes looked to the South Side Little League’s diamonds. And yet there were those who felt the league's best years were behind it. Neighborhood legends like the prodigious Greg Dunn, the theatrical Toot Fletcher, and the hasty Jimmy Pellow had all graduated, their feats relegated to folklore. But this year's playoff chase was tightening, and new heroes were being forged. Perennial contender "General Heat Treating" needed a win on this Saturday to stay atop the 5-team league. And Coach McCarthy - as he had done all season - put the ball in the left hand of his ace, the bespectacled 12 year old with the same surname.Many whispered that the coach showed favoritism toward his son, pitching him the maximum allowed 6 innings per week. But a closer look revealed the charge to be meritless: none of the coach’s elder sons - Mark, Pat, Mike - had stood on the mound. Rubber-armers, all. But this boy dubbed “Moody” could throw. Years of hurling tennis balls at the family's Volkswagen van (hitting the license plate was a strike, the back glass was a ball, and breaking a tail light meant getting the fuck out of there) had paid off. Moody's debut in the 8 & 9 yr. old "T-shirts" league had been auspicious: he and righty Pat Canole formed an unbeatable one/two punch that carried Uncle Mike's Mobil team to a title. (Some claim their hurling dominance ushered in “T-ball“.)But Moody's career in the 10-to-12 year old division - "The Majors" – had not been without adversity. As a 10-yr-old, his cluelessness in right field exposed his Achilles heel: poor eyesight. McCarthy could cheat on the nurse's eye test, but he couldn't fool a fly ball. As one blurry can of corn after another rained down and "E-9" filled the score card, he had to swallow his pride and visit the optician. But his new Teamster-esque steel frames had a side-effect: they hampered his peripheral vision. That - and the wild side-arm throw of Shawn Ritchie (of brutally off-key "Star Spangle Banner" trumpet solo fame) - combined on a regrettable play to knock out the 11-yr old McCarthy's front tooth. (Quick thinking by his coach/Pa allowed the tooth to be re-inserted, but it would have to be replaced years later.)But now, in his final year in The Majors, McCarthy was in top form physically, emotionally, even financially. His tooth had seemingly taken root, he'd become accustomed to his glasses, and his ill-fated 5-day romance with Megan Rivito was behind him. Even though Megan lived on his paper route, she knew not to answer the door Thursdays between 7-7:30 when he collected. And his route - 35 daily/42 Sunday - gave him the solvency to turn down other projects for an allowance. This allowed for the same daily routine: wail tennis balls at the VW until 3pm; deliver the Herald Journal to Columbia Ave subscribers; resume wailing tennis balls.The southpaw would need his focus this afternoon because the opposing Burger King line-up was formidable: the mustachioed Joseph Mancuso, the quick-batted Jimmy Warren, and Dennis, the beefcake irresistible to the ladies, and - later in life - the lads. No easy outs here - a veritable Murderer's Row. But General Heat Treating was blessed with a sure-handed infield, which included the Feyerabend twins: Bobby at third base, Rich at second. Tim Reed held down the bag at first. Some other kid played short.As McCarthy took the mound, he had no idea that years later he'd email Jeff Caldwell about this day. (He anticipated “e-mail”, but not befriending Jeff.) His only thought was to throw strikes, and that he did. Fastballs, all day long. Nothing but hard heat, down the pipe. The catcher's mitt seemed as big as the Vanagon. Burger King didn't have a chance. When they managed to get aluminum on the ball it was fielded gracefully by the infield. More often, they struck out. Some walked. One may have been beaned.But, when it was over, not one batter had hit.And there was joy in General Heat Treating. The ghosts of South Side Little League tipped their caps. Root Beers were shaken.When the celebration ended and the McCarthys went home, the last thing for Coach to do was to call the Herald Journal's sports desk to report the feat. And the next morning those 42 Sundays felt as light as 35 dailies.