Former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Ken Oberkfell is the recipient of the 2021 Collinsville High School Alumni Achievement Award. Oberkfell will be honored during the school’s 2021 commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 15, at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in Fletcher Gymnasium.
Oberkfell, a 1974 graduate of Collinsville High School, was raised in Maryville, Illinois. He attended Maryville Elementary School and North Junior High School, and was a CHS Kahok Baseball player before being signed by the Cardinals organization in 1975. After a storied career in professional baseball, Oberkfell once again lives locally and spends time sharing his knowledge and love of the sport with local youth.
Ken Oberkfell started playing baseball in Maryville when he was six years old. Growing up across the river from St. Louis, he dreamed of playing in the major leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals. After graduating from Collinsville High School, he played baseball at Belleville Area College (now Southwestern Illinois College) where he was named a Junior College All-American. At that time,he was scouted by the Cardinals and signed as a free agent on his birthday, May 4, in 1975.
“My dad loved baseball,” says Oberkfell, “but was a [Chicago] Cubs fan. I was a Cardinals fan. When the Cardinals scouts talked to us, I was only nineteen years old. There was no doubt I wanted to play for them. My dad left it up to me to make the decision. It was my dream come true.”
He played for farm teams in the Cardinals system until late 1977 when he got the call to move up to replace an injured player. In 1978, he played his first full season in Major League baseball.
The highlight of his Major League career was being a member of the Cardinals’ 1982 World Championship team as part of “the best infield in baseball.”
He was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1984 and went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros and California Angels. Among his memories: playing for the Giants in the 1989 World Series during the historic game when an earthquake struck the Bay Area. He retired from playing in 1992.
Oberkfell transitioned to coaching and worked in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005, and won Winter League and Carribean Series championships managing Leones Del Escogido in the Domincan Republic. He coached for several Minor League teams and eventually retired to return to the Collinsville/Maryville area.
He has three grown children: Tami, Joseph and Elizabeth. He enjoys playing golf and mentoring young baseball players. He coaches 10-year-olds in Maryville’s Drost Park Khoury League and offers lessons upon request. He’s currently the color commentator for Kahoks Baseball on the Kahoks Sports Network.
He credits his parents for their support of his dream to play professional baseball and for giving him opportunities to make his dream come true. He says growing up in Maryville was “…a lot of fun. Everybody knew everybody.” Oberkfell fondly remembers his days at Collinsville High School.
“I remember my high school science teacher Carl Temple and baseball coaches Terry Smith and Russ Keene. Russ Keene was a great teacher and a great person,” said Oberkfell. He is pleased the Freshman/JV baseball field behind the high school was recently named for Keene.
Oberkfell says he admires the strength shown by the Class of 2021 as they endured more than a year of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said his commencement message will include telling them to “Dream big. Dream big and it can happen for you. It happened for me. Dreams do come true.”
Collinsville High School serves 1,900+ students in grades 9-12 in Collinsville Community Unit School District #10 located in Madison and St. Clair counties in southwestern Illinois.