Tears streamed down Til Strudwick's face as he looked on at the orange flag rippling in the wind Sunday afternoon. On it, in black, was the word "HERE" in capital letters.
For Strudwick, 65, a diehard baseball fan, it was more than just a replica of the flag that marked where lauded Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson hit the first home run out of Memorial Stadium exactly 50 years ago. It was also a symbol of his heroes and his many memories involving the Orioles' former stomping grounds.
More than 50 people, including members of the North East Atlantic Football League teams, the Eastern Shore Elements and the Baltimore Giants, gathered around local baseball enthusiast Mark Melonas on either side of the chain-link fence at the YMCA ballfield in Waverly where the stadium once stood. They watched as he hoisted the replica flag in the approximate spot it originally hung to commemorate Robinson's home run hit.
On May 8, 1966, Robinson became the first player to hit a home run ball out of the stadium. A little more than a week after the home run, the original flag was raised where the ball left the park, stating "HERE" to mark the spot where the ball flew over the fence. The flag remained there until the end of 1991. The replica flag was created by F.W. Haxel Co., the Havre de Grace company that made the original flag.
Melonas, who recapped Robinson's history for attendees, said he was inspired to host the event after his father, Jim Melonas, also a longtime fan, told him more about Robinson. He also learned a lot about the player in a book called "100 Things Every O's Fans Should Know and Do Before they Die" by former Baltimore Sun baseball writer Dan Connolly.
"The more I read, the more I felt what a great hero he was and how important it was to remember that," Melonas told the crowd. He later pointed to a man in a black Orioles' shirt who stood approximately 451 feet away from home plate on the ballfield in an open field to illustrate how far Robinson's ball traveled that day.
Melonas and his wife and kids had roughly estimated the distance before the event, and later had friends measure out the exact distance using a measuring tape.
Robinson's success, which came shortly after he was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Orioles, took off. He played in the World Series that same year, and became the only player to ever win MVP honors in both the National and American Leagues. Robinson was also one of the few African-Americans to play on the Orioles team at that time and the first hired as a manager in Major League history.
"At that time, there weren't a lot of black ball players on any team and he was one of three on the Orioles, and when he came to Baltimore, he and his wife couldn't rent a house," Melonas said, noting that Robinson faced discrimination during his baseball career. Despite it all, Robinson made a huge impact on the world of baseball, he said.
"Frank was the punch that the team needed to win the American League and the World Series," Melonas said.
Strudwick, sporting a Robinson jersey on Sunday, was 15 at the time. He was sitting in the upper deck next to right field.
"There was a standing ovation," he recalled misty-eyed. "You never get a standing ovation in baseball."
Since then, Strudwick has attended at least 40 games per season. Many were with his father who died more than a decade ago. He still thinks about his father and the players whenever he goes to a game.
"They were the men I admired most. ... You remember that first time, you remember who you were with, what you were wearing ... the memory was never erased," he said.
Children flocked to an open field across from where the stadium once was and participated in whiffle ball, pitching contests and other games. Later, children ages 14 to 18, including players from Carver Vocational High School, participated in a home run derby, attempting to see whther they could match Robinson's record by hitting a home run over the fence.
Michael Rosenband, a baseball coach at the high school — a historically black vocational school in West Baltimore — said it's important for his players to learn about a player like Robinson who fought to be great despite the odds and racism he endured during that time.
"It's special for kids to see others playing baseball that resemble them," Rosenband said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.