By Stephanie Malench
Maryville is known in the area for being founded as a coal mining village back in 1902.
Not everyone knows that Maryville also mined another industry- baseball players. Between 1931 and 1992, Maryville produced 4 major league baseball players and 10 minor league baseball players. Three of the four played in World Series games. During these years before the Khoury League fields were built, the kids from all over the village would go play ball together in a field behind Mother of Perpetual Help Church.
In the 1930s, Maryville’s population was approximately 250 with three professional baseball players and only 16 teams in Major League Baseball, with St. Louis having the 2 western-most teams at the time, the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League and the St. Louis Browns in the American League.
For several years, Keith (cousin of Ken Oberkfell) and Marsha Oberkfell have been working with the village to place a mural on the Maryville Heritage Museum wall on the Donk St. side paying tribute to the four major league players from Maryville- John “Buster” Lucas, Robert “Bob” Boken, Dwain “Lefty” Sloat, and Ken “Obie” Oberkfell.
The Oberkfells got the idea to create the mural for all of the players after seeing the mural on South Main St. in Troy in honor of Bob Turley. Fundraisers had been planned to help pay for the project, but COVID-19 hit and they had to be canceled. The Oberkfells decided to proceed with the project They hired Troy Freeman of Free Sky Studios out of Central Illinois, who completed the job in one week.
To do the project, Freeman used outlines of each of the four players from the Maryville Centennial Book and placed them on a picture of the blank wall. He then numbered the bricks to know where to start and stop with the shading.
Because of the high profile mural, the doors on the building are being replaced by the Village which owns the building.
Signarama in Edwardsville made the markers for each player in the shape of baseballs. Eventually a heading will be painted
Ken “Obie” Oberkfell is the only one of the four still living, and still lives in Maryville. He also had the longest major league career of all of the Maryville players, spanning 16 years. When asked about his inclusion in the mural, Oberkfell said “it is something I never thought I’d see” and joked “I’m glad I have a 32-inch waistline again.”
Oberkfell started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977. During that time, he said he had two of the greatest things happen to him. The first was when Cardinal legend Lou Brock gave him his first pair of real cleats and the second was winning the 1982 World Series with the greatest infield ever.
Oberkfell was then traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1984, where he stayed until 1988 for two partial seasons. In 1989 Oberkfell made his second World Series appearance with the San Fransisco Giants in the Earthquake World Series, losing to Oakland in four straight games.
The next two years Oberkfell played for the Houston Astros before retiring from the Anaheim Angels in 1992.
The other three players each only played for one year in their major league career. The only other player to play in the World Series was Robert “Bob” Boken in 1933 with the Washington Senators who lost to the New York Giants four games to one.
Should any more Maryville natives make it to the big leagues, there is still room on the north end of the wall.