We went out to the left-field bleachers for one last look and discovered, among the mourners, a man who did not know the essence of "HERE." Somehow, he had never heard the legend of the flag. It had to be explained to him. And when it was explained, the man was awed. He stepped back and snapped a picture.
"HERE" is, of course, the only word that was ever needed because it says everything about baseball -- the way "Hon" says everything about Baltimore.
Years ago, they hoisted a flag bearing the word to mark the
place where Frank Robinson's home run sailed out of Memorial Stadium, over the left-field bleachers, beyond baseball legend and deep into the realm of true myth. By yesterday afternoon, with the wind steady to right, "HERE" had snapped open, perfectly flat and steady, shimmering orange-and-black against the October sky. The flag could not have been more beautiful. Nothing about the final day, with all its exquisite and elaborate ceremony, could have provided as grandly simple a symbol for the stadium, the city that built it and the people who loved it like home.
The word came up all day.
"I was here in 1954," an old man said.
"I was here before that," an older man said.
"I was here in 1966, when Frank hit it," a man of the Baby Boom generation said.
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California: "There is no there there." But in Baltimore, here is HERE -- on 33rd Street -- and everyone, whether he or she attended yesterday's game or not, has a piece of it. I have a feeling that HERE -- the sense of place and belonging the stadium gave at least three generations of baseball fans -- will remain in Baltimore's soul long after the new stadium opens and the old one is torn down for condominiums.
The "HERE" flag, marking the site of the monstrous Robinson home run that went completely out of the stadium on May 8, 1966 -- the only such home run in Memorial Stadium's history -- flowed high and handsomely over the last happy gathering of men, women and children in the Section 13 bleachers.
From one story above them, at the edge of Section 12, it seemed as though you could almost reach forward and touch HERE. But it was beyond grasp, which completed the poetry.
HERE is more than a flag. HERE is something you can't touch; it is part of the grand myth of baseball, a romantic idea that seduces the hardest cynics and cranks among us. It is something you can only feel, or something you visit in your memory, in the gleaming corners of imagination. HERE is the mystical something that Baltimoreans, scattered through the suburbs, still have in common. HERE helps us keep faith. HERE is what brings everyone home again.
"I was here in 1954," said Lou Marzullo. "I came with my father. I don't remember where we sat. I was in the seventh grade. We probably sat in the bleachers. . . . I wanted to be here for the last game."
"I've been here since 1954, right in this spot," Ernie Salamone said proudly and sadly, and you almost believed him. He looked as if he had found his spot -- right HERE -- years ago and had never moved, except maybe to go home for dinner. Ernie used to be an usher in the west side press box. He sat in that same press box yesterday. His wife, Minnie, was at his side.
Just then, a white stretch limousine, symbol of the New Baseball and the New Orioles, arrived in the infield to take home plate to the New Stadium in downtown Baltimore.
Members of the grounds crew were ordered to chop the plate out of the clay, a chore that probably should have been left for another day. It was a painful thing to watch, the day's closest brush with bad taste.
But it was quickly forgotten because the grand finale was splendor in the grass: Dozens of old baseball players in white uniforms jogging across the long shadows of the autumn afternoon, taking the positions they held when they were young, finding their place again, home again, HERE again.
It was an elegant fantasy, as stunning a sight as I've ever seen in my life.
Later, on the big video screen, we watched the installation of home plate at the new stadium. The crowd at Memorial Stadium was less than keen on this. They were fully absorbed in the spectacle on 33rd Street. Their hearts were still HERE.
Until history is made in Camden Yards, until the years pound new legends into the new ballpark, until the people come out and fill the place with song, HERE remains on 33rd Street, even after the wrecking crews move in.
They can stretch-limo home plate to Camden Yards but they can't take HERE.
There is no HERE there. Not yet.