One Sunday in a long-ago spring, sudden lightning cracked from Frank Robinson’s bat, and in a few electric seconds, one of Baltimore’s greatest legends was born. Robinson hit a home run that cleared the left-field bleachers, the ball flying high over spectators, and landing in the parking lot beyond. It was the only home run anyone ever hit out of long-gone Memorial Stadium.
Moved by the magic, someone ordered a flag to mark the spot of Robinson’s extraordinary feat. And the genius was in the simple design — black letters spelling “HERE” against a field of Oriole orange. The flag flew from a pole beyond the bleachers for the next 25 years — Arthur’s sword-in-the-stone, an Excalibur of baseball that marked a region of true myth.
There was cool mystery about that flag. Baltimore baseball fans who knew what “HERE” meant relished the opportunity to explain it to visitors to 33rd Street.
Lightning struck on May 8, 1966, early in Robinson’s Roy Hobbs season, when he won the American League Triple Crown and led the Orioles to their first World Series championship.
He hit the ball off El Tiante — that is, the Cuban-born pitcher of the Cleveland Indians, Luis Tiant, then just 22 years old and the maestro of three consecutive shutouts before his Sunday start in Baltimore. Robinson hit his legendary blast in the first inning of the second game of a double-header. Tiant’s pitch was a fastball, low and inside. Robinson’s fast hands and strong wrists put bat to ball, and the ball traveled 451 feet on the fly before rolling to a stop 540 feet from home plate, where some boys recovered it. There were nearly 50,000 fans at Memorial Stadium that day, and they gave Robinson a standing ovation that is believed to have lasted a full minute.
The great hitter, who died Thursday at 83, later said the applause was “the thing I remember most about my years in Baltimore.” And that says a lot, given all the achievements of the Orioles and Robinson in the years that followed.
In 1991, when the Orioles played their final season in Memorial Stadium, Robinson was the manager of the club. During the last game, on Oct. 6, I went out to the left-field bleachers for one last look at “HERE” and had the pleasure of explaining it to a man unfamiliar with its meaning. By then, of course, “HERE” had come to symbolize the sense of home that Memorial Stadium provided for three generations of Baltimoreans, a great good place where both residents of the city and its suburban diaspora gathered for baseball as well as football. The “HERE” flag went to a fan who won it in an Orioles-sponsored giveaway. Last we checked, it was in a retired Marine’s foot locker in Texas. Memorial Stadium was, of course, torn down, and there’s a YMCA there now, and athletic fields and housing for seniors. In 2016, to commemorate the 50 years since Robinson’s famous home run, an Orioles fan named Mark Melonas arranged to have a replica of the flag mark the approximate spot, so that the Legend of “HERE” lives on. Melonas flies the flag on Sundays during baseball season when the Orioles are home at Camden Yards. Today, he plans to hoist the flag, then lower it to half staff.