ORIOLE, Md. -- It's the only town, population an even 100, according to Rand McNally, within any state that can boast of a namesake team playing major-league baseball. Occasioned via pure happenstance. Oriole and the Baltimore Orioles are separated by 136 miles, but the relationship is strong. Yes, Oriole might be a dot on the map, yet it is a place of quiet civility where just about everybody feels like home folks and a passing stranger is often asked during the heat of day to come up on the porch to sit a spell.
The Oriolelanders of Oriole, you might say, have their own team, the Orioles, by dint of living here. A birthright, so to speak, born of sheer coincidence.
Welcome to Oriole, Md., which has been around since 1886, so-called because of the Baltimore orioles, the strikingly colorful flying breed, not the Ripken-Robinson kind, which were once indigenous to the area. Right next to Oriole is Champ, another town, which by proximity, hopefully foretells that a championship is again in the offing, even if its being decided way up north, over on the western shore, as they say hereabout, in a metropolis called Baltimore.
If you'll accept another Oriole/Champ linkage to Baltimore, there's a neighboring community, two miles away, known as Monie. Spell it money and therein is what it has taken, in large amounts, to put the baseball Orioles in pursuit of their present success, which could lead to a pennant and World Series. To provide a pointed directional reference to Oriole, take state Route 363 out of Princess Anne toward Deal Island and, when halfway there, turn left.
The village of Oriole has one street, Oriole Road, and once had three stores, but not any more. Ruth Muir, a gentle, refined woman of 82 baseball seasons, spent 20 years as postmaster of Oriole. "I guess I was postmistress but, officially, we were known as postmaster," she said. "Now the mail has been taken over by the delivery office in Princess Anne because it's not as busy around here as it used to be. That's when we had the stores and St. Peter's Methodist Church. We still have St. Peter's Church, which is important to all of us."
Mrs. Muir readily admits to her Oriole prejudices. "I'm with 'em, win or lose," she said. "I stay up all hours listening and watching. But I've never actually seen a major-league game. My sister-in-law said the other day the Orioles weren't doing much, they were kind of playing badly, but I was pleased to remind her they had been in first place since Opening Day.
"I remember when Oriole had a two-room schoolhouse and then a one-room school. I would expect now that we don't have any more than 100 to 150 people living here. Just about all my life I've been in Oriole. It's quiet and nice. And we feel close to our Oriole team."
As a footnote, the Orioles once signed an Oriole from Oriole the only time it ever happened. It was Mrs. Muir's son, Charles, a pitcher, who is now a two-term elected official of Somerset County, serving as its treasurer, who went on to find his athletic niche as one of the all-time best fast-pitch softball players in the state of Maryland and a golfer of such distinction that he has won 11 club championships at four different courses -- Green Hill, Nassawango, Salisbury Elks and Great Hope.
It would have been a historic moment for the Orioles if a player from Oriole could have worn an Orioles uniform in Baltimore. Muir's late uncle, Joe, also of Oriole, made the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox after putting up impressive records in the minors before quitting baseball at age 29, one year before reaching the then maximum age for joining the Maryland State Police and a chance to provide job security for his family.
Muir -- Charles, not Joe -- pitched part of the 1956 season for the Orioles' Class D farm club, the Thomson Orioles of the Georgia State League, along with three other teammates from Baltimore -- infielder Roland King and pitchers Danny Welsh and Ed Gunning -- who recorded a no-hitter and struck out 197 that season. But, as with most minor-leaguers, some beset with injuries, they never achieve the ultimate goal -- the major leagues.
"We had spring training at Thomasville, Ga., not to be confused with Thomson, and my pitching coach was Hal Newhouser," Muir remembers. "Marv Breeding and Wes Stock were in the camp. I had a 3-2 record at Thomson, but got released the day before I was to get a $400 bonus if I stayed with the club until June 15. Scout John 'Poke' Whalen signed me and gave me a $500 signing bonus and a $275-a-month contract, plus the contingency bonus I talked about.
"I didn't throw exceptionally hard, but I was a pitcher, not a thrower. I always said, 'Pitchers win the Cy Young Award and throwers go home.' Along about the same time I was getting hitters out with what I guess was an average fastball, there was a pitcher in the big leagues named Stu Miller who had some top years and hardly threw the ball any faster than you see in batting practice."
Muir, who subsequently worked as a charter pilot for Bay Land Aviation, flying out of Salisbury, looks back on his Orioles experience with much personal enjoyment, not regret. "I took that $500 bonus I got for signing with the Orioles and bought Dolores Cooling, who lived in Chesapeake City -- my wife -- an engagement ring at Kuhn Jewelers in Salisbury."
Now age 60, he once sat in the one-room school house, Oriole Elementary, his mother talked about. He went there for three years, a time when one teacher taught six grades. "Most of the men made a living tonging oysters or crabbing, and a few were farmers. In Oriole, as a kid you could be playing in anybody's back yard, get thirsty and go in their kitchen to get a drink of water. You never locked a door and, back then, a lot of houses never even had locks and keys."
One of the most knowledgable Orioles fans in Oriole is a Somerset County commissioner, one Clarence Laird, who proclaims with pride that, "The town is close to being all-out 100 percent for the Orioles." He says he travels to Baltimore as "often as possible for games" and has special fondness for what he calls a "whole passel of super ballplayers," going on to mention the Robinsons -- Brooks and Frank -- Boog Powell, Jim Gentile and Mark Belanger.
Laird was born two miles away, in Venton, but recalls "Oriole as a bustling little village with three stores, and it was there the men would gather every night to socialize and talk about the news of the day, including the Orioles, even dating back to a time [before 1954] when they were in the International League. Now in Oriole we have about 25 to 30 houses."
On a per capita basis, Oriole is just about the strongest pocket of interest in the Orioles that you'll find on this or any other planet. The natives of the town carry the name of the team on their birth certificates.
Pub Date: 9/21/97