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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) is a state university on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was founded in 1873 and has a student body of more than 11,700 students. The university has nine schools and offers more than 150 academic programs. It is a liberal arts school with the largest program being the School of Education.
The Redhawks baseball team calls Capaha Park its home base. In a unique town/gown arrangement, Southeast Missouri State partners in the ownership and management of all of its athletic facilities with the City of Cape Girardeau. This has proven to be economical for both parties. Capaha Field has a capacity of 2,000 seats and fans can also watch the games from the hillsides located behind the first base dugout and behind the left field wall. The dimensions of the field are 330 feet down the lines and 400 feet to straightaway center. The natural grass playing surface is kept in immaculate shape by the Cape Girardeau Parks Department.
The Redhawks compete in the Ohio Valley Conference with schools such as Austin Peay, Jacksonville State, Tennessee Tech, Murray State and UT-Martin.
The bleachers at Capaha Field are very unique and have quite a baseball history behind them. Wooden bleachers are available with 2/3 of the seats under a roof-like structure behind home plate and 1/3 exposed to the elements. Atop the structure is a press box built separately from the roof.
During World War II severe gas rationing was in place and long distance travel was discouraged. The St. Louis Browns had usually had their spring training headquartered in Hot Springs, Arkansas which is quite a distance to travel. Due to gas rationing they had to look at other options. They met with the town leadership of Cape Girardeau, which is approximately 100 miles south of St. Louis. The business leadership got together and had the grandstand built at their own expense, and those bleachers are still in use today.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
A majority of people who attend SEMO games treat them as a picnic in the park and bring coolers, grills, tents and chairs with them. Therefore the concessions offered are very limited and there is no concession stand built into the grandstand structure. The university works with Jimmy John's sandwich chain to provide sandwiches, chips and sodas at the same cost as a store bought item. In addition, since the park is off university property, beer is allowed to be sold at games. (It is Budweiser... we are near St. Louis after all!) Both concessions operate off folding tables at the top of the hill overlooking the field.
SEMO games hearken back to the origins of baseball where there are not lots of bells and whistles, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The community shows up in large numbers, sets up its seating and picnic, and watches the game in the comfort of a lawn chair or the bed of their pickup truck. It is a chance to catch up with your neighbors and have an excellent view of the ball game. This tradition is known as "fill the hill" and is truly a community gathering place. The bleachers hold 2,000 and I would estimate at least as many more fit on the hills along the first base line and beyond the outfield walls.
SEMO and Capaha Park are located in downtown Cape Girardeau, a college town on the banks of the Mississippi River. The local population is just over 38,000 with most people employed by either the university or the local healthcare system. There are a number of restaurants unique to "The Cape" that are worth a try.
For breakfast, try Sands Pancake House on Kingshighway Street. Café Soupe has a great soup and sandwich combo for lunch and the Broadway Biergarten is a good choice for dinner. If you have any room left in your stomach, stop in at Cape's Cream of the Crust Ice Cream and Fountain Soda Shop.
Cape Girardeau is an antique shopper's mecca with lots of great buys. The hotels in town are family friendly, but not five star. You will find the usual chains located along the interstate.
SEMO fans come in all shapes, ages, and sizes and may or may not have a history with the university. For many people, SEMO is simply their town's home team. Typically, you will find the grandstand populated by youth teams, moms with strollers and the older demographic. This is due to the shelter the grandstand provides as it keeps them out of the hot sun and protects them from the rains of early spring.
The hillside fans are much more likely to be students, alumni and faculty from SEMO, along with many of the people who live in the residential neighborhood around the stadium and can simply walk down with their lawn chairs and catch a game for free. What both groups share is a passion for their Redhawks. It is a virtual sea of red from the top of the hill to the first row in the bleachers. Rowdy the Redhawk, the SEMO mascot is often on wing at the games to stir up the fans as well.
Cape Girardeau is located 115 miles southeast of St. Louis and 175 miles north of Memphis. I-55 connects the city to St. Louis and I -57 is just across the river in Illinois. Several flights a day connect to St. Louis from the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. Once you are in town, parking is readily available at Capaha Park, which is two blocks from the SEMO campus. A majority of the students simply walk to the games as it is faster and easier than finding parking within the park.
Tickets are not required for a Redhawks game and there is no charge for parking. The local restaurants are very reasonably priced as are the hotels. Where you need to watch your wallet are the wineries, which can be very pricey, and at the Isle Casino.... if you roll a bad streak.
For a small town the size of Cape Girardeau, there are a surprising number of extras for you to enjoy during your visit.
First, you are in the middle of Missouri wine country. There are no fewer than eight wineries in the area, with tastings scheduled every day of the week.
Another unique aspect of the town are the many murals decorating the flood wall along the Mississippi River and the walls of area businesses. There are more than 40 murals to enjoy, with historic events, famous people, local landscapes and tales of the Mighty Mississippi depicted on the panels.
The Isle Casino Cape Girardeau is available to those who like to play games of chance.
Finally, this area of the state is very conservative, so you won't be surprised to find out that Rush Limbaugh is a native of Cape Girardeau. Pick up a map of the Rush Limbaugh Hometown Driving Tour at the local visitor's center which takes you around to the significant places of his youth... just make sure you stay on the right side of the road!
It is nice to see a community embrace a college team as its own. The town/gown relationship seems to work very well in Cape Girardeau.
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