f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

Fans watch St. Louis Browns at Capaha Park

Posted Friday, March 12, 2010, at 7:30 AM

G.D. Fronabarger took this picture, possibly in 1944, of what may have been one of the largest crowds to see a baseball game at Capaha Park in Cape Girardeau. It was when the St. Louis Browns held their spring training in Cape Girardeau. The Browns were playing their minor league affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. The Browns trained here 1943-45 and the Mud Hens were here 1944-45.

Excerpt from Southeast Missourian, July 29, 1994:

Wartime travel restrictions forced the Browns to find a training ground closer to home than Florida, and the Browns chose Cape Girardeau. They were joined here for two of the three years by the Toledo Mud Hens. The Cardinals trained farther downriver at Cairo, Ill.

During those springs, Cape Girardeau became the site of much baseball revelry, creating a special bond with the Browns. Bands greeted the players at the Frisco passenger train station. Grandstands were painted for the first time by volunteers. Fences, heretofore unseen, were put up. The Arena building was filled with dirt for indoor practice, and Houck Field House changed into a pitchers bullpen and team locker room.

The Browns didn't disappoint. They started each day--when it wasn't raining--in Houck and trotted to what was then called Fairground Park, some singing along the way. They brought the first electric pitching machine to Cape Girardeau, not to mention the famous Paul and "Dizzy" Dean. Dizzy, not a Brown, came to umpire a game and watch his brother. The day he was here turned into a spectacle as a cigarette was dropped through a crack, catching the grandstand on fire. Thankfully, the fire was put out quickly with a few pails of water.

Besides games and pepper on the field, the Browns delighted the town in other ways. One example is how each year players and managers donned aprons to "pass the flapjacks" at the annual Lions Club "pancake feast." Their presence also lit up the rooms and lobby of the Marquette Hotel.

When the Browns left for St. Louis at the end of the first spring, Cape Girardeau's mayor Beckman reported, "The city was reimbursed $481.35 and we now have a fine baseball field and painted grandstand without cost to taxpayers. Merchants were not given a shakedown nor were we obliged to beg to make up a deficit."

The Browns, meanwhile, with expenses and receipts both totaling just over $2,000, made a profit of $44.76 while here. In today's major league disputes over hundreds of millions of dollars, this is an incredible figure.

More rewarding to the Browns, though, was how they went on in 1944 to win the American League pennant in thrilling fashion against the New York Yankees, the first time in franchise history and the only time they did it while in St. Louis. While they later lost the World Series to the Cardinals in what was dubbed the "trolleycar series," the Browns' American League championship was voted the biggest sports surprise of the year by the Associated Press. Asked what the key ingredient to their season was, manager Luke Sewell responded, "the quick start our pitchers had thanks to fine conditioning in spring training."

Editor's Note:

According to our librarian, Sharon Sanders, at one time there were 12 structures on the grounds, a race track, a pond and a baseball diamond. After the city bought the grounds, all of the structures were torn down except for the community clubhouse, which burned in 1937, and the grandstand, which was torn down in 1949 in favor of the current grandstand.

None of the structures at the park was built prior to 1900. In the early 1900s the fair was moved to what is now Capaha Park.

The original grandstand was built in 1905 and stood until 1911, when it was demolished by a wind storm. It was rebuilt the same year, but some 40 feet larger than the original.

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