Don Cunningham: When September Ends

By Colin McEvoy on October 17, 2019

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on Oct. 17, 2019. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

Not long ago the grass was green and new.

Each spring, there is hope. It’s a time of birth and possibility.

It’s when Phillies fans talk of pennants and the World Series – and believe it.

It’s a time when tomorrow is what we dream it to be.

When September ends, the grass is a lighter shade of green and aware of the blades that spin above.

Fall is the season of truth. Optimists become realists.

It’s a time when managers get fired and our heroes become human.

In fall, we are wiser but a bit sadder. We’ve seen the good and bad and have learned that change is our only constant companion.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day sings of it hauntingly in the 2004 song “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends
Summer has come and passed
The innocence can never last
Wake me up when September ends

If spring is our youth, fall is middle age.

In our fall, we look both forward and behind. We understand that innocence does get lost and we mourn its passing.

Sometimes it’s far too real. This September I knelt at the coffin of a young man I watched grow up. His name was Edwin Arcelay. He was from our west Bethlehem neighborhood, a boyhood friend of my son Shane.

I coached Edwin for two years in 15- and 16-year-old senior baseball at Lehigh Little League.  Shane was our catcher, Edwin our best pitcher. They’d played together since Tee-ball. Neither of them made the team at Liberty High School but it didn’t dampen their desire to play. They fell one game short of a league championship in their final season.

As a father, I reveled in their innocence, reliving my own through them.

Edwin had become a man. He had a child of his own. He was driving home from work at FedEx last month on Rt. 378 – less than one mile from those baseball fields and his boyhood home – when his car was struck head on by another vehicle.

Edwin was 27-years-old.

The other driver also was killed. He was a 24-year-old military veteran.

A photo at Edwin’s funeral of him helping coach his eight-year-old son on the same baseball field he played on was too much for me.

I was glad to have this September end.

Edwin’s mom and dad came here from Puerto Rico pregnant with Edwin in search of a better life. For them, the pain will never end but spring will come for their grandson and the little league field will beckon.

Change is our constant companion.

On a flight this week, I came upon one of those classic sports channels that show old baseball games. The final game of the 1976 New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals American League Championship was on. It’s the one where Chris Chambliss hits the ninth inning walk off home run to send the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since the days of Mickey Mantle in 1962.

It’s part of Yankees lore.

In 1976, I was a ten-year-old, dedicated Yankee fan who watched every game on WPIX New York Channel 11, only missing for one of my little league games.

Every game was broadcast. No special cable channel was needed.

Yankee legend Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto called the games with Bill White. I can still hear their voices, especially Rizzuto’s trademark, “Holy cow.” Bumping through turbulence this week, it was 1976 again. On screen were Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph and Greg Nettles, the heroes of my youth in the raucous old Yankee Stadium.

Martin and Munson are gone. The rest are now old men.

The day before my flight I watched today’s Yankee team back in an AL Championship again seeking a World Series return after a decade away.

During the game, Major League Baseball ran an ad for the playoffs that beautifully blends old black and white clips of players in the 1940s and 1950s with color shots of today’s stars. It hit me – as boring as baseball can be today – it remains America’s pastime because it doesn’t change.

The diamond looks the same. Bases are still 90-feet apart. Three strikes make an out and there are but three per inning.

Something needs to remain constant in life. We need a link from the spring and summer of our youth to the fall and winter.

The Yankees lost that 1976 World Series in four games. We’ll soon know the fate of this year’s team.  Life holds no guarantee.

Each September, however, holds the promise of a better fall, another spring and a new generation’s innocence. I pray for the Arcelays to find peace and for us all to, “Try to Remember,” as Jerry Orbach sang in the Fantasticks on Broadway.

Try to remember the kind of September,
When life was slow and oh so mellow.
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
When you were a tender and callow fellow.


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