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Fans watch St. Louis Browns at Capaha Park

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

(Photo)
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.

Previous blog:

Batting cage for St. Louis Browns?


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

It's nice to know that Cape had a hand in sending a team to the Fall Classic....

-- Posted by vincebrown on Sat, Mar 13, 2010, at 9:02 AM

Hopefully someday Cape can get another farm team to play here. I have been to Memphis and Springfield.Where My family had more fun there than at Busch stadium.

-- Posted by mogearjammer on Sat, Mar 13, 2010, at 4:52 PM

This is what baseball should be in Cape, Capaha had always been a perfect spot to watch some baseball. By my guess, that day in 1944(?) drew out nearly 4500 folks, all out for a fine early Spring day. The old grandstand reminds me of the Bollinger Mill covered bridge, for some reason. Too bad all the spring training facilities have located to Arizona or Florida - it would be great to have some of that action back in Missouri. Let's do it again !!

-- Posted by jacksonjazzman on Sun, Mar 14, 2010, at 11:46 AM

Sometime prior to the "Trolley Car World Series" between the Cardinals and Browns which was played in Sportsmans Park on North Grand in St Louis, the Cards played in what was called Cardinals Field or Stadium. Does anyone know where it was located?

-- Posted by mo_ky_fellow on Sun, Mar 14, 2010, at 5:27 PM

My father, being 33 when it came time to enlist, was given a rather non-standard WW-II assignment. He was stationed in Cape as the Navy Recruiter, having lived and worked there, as well as where we grew up in Kirkwood. So, as it turns out, the photo of my 5th birthday is from a house we rented on Henderson in '45.

I can't say I remember what was going on the day of that photo, but I can tell you that for the next couple of years, as I became certain that I was destined to become a big league ball player, amongst the 'tools of the trade' in our garage was an honest-to-goodness professional baseball players bat. I don't remember the exact weight and length, just that a seven-yr-old could barely swing it AND that it had a strong metal screw about 14 inches up the handle. That's how we learned [when tape was not enough] to fix a broken bat for a couple more seasons.

Most importantly, what I can absolutely recall was that it was a Louisville Slugger specially made and autographed for Vern Stephens. You can refresh your memory on his career elsewhere, and know that another invaluable aspect of a small, friendly ballpark like the one in Cape [but Sportsman's Park wasn't unfriendly] was that a boy could walk over and get a broken bat from a major league player.

We'll never know how the Coke kid got into the tunnel to get Mean Joe Greene's jersey, but you can easily see how my dad got me my Brown's bat.

-- Posted by tcorbet on Mon, Apr 26, 2010, at 12:39 PM

I know the Cardinals trained at Cairo the same time that the Browns trained in Cape I was tryng to find out if they played each other in Spring training? There is a lot of information on the Cardinals and the Browns at the Museum in Cairo, but no mention of them playing each other.

-- Posted by mr_freddy on Wed, Jun 1, 2011, at 6:17 PM

Great to see this photo. Mom always told me how dad loved this team! He died in Nov. of this year, so he's probably here in this photo somewhere. Made my day.

-- Posted by 1patriot on Thu, Jun 13, 2013, at 9:05 AM


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Fred Lynch has captured images for the Southeast Missourian since 1975, in that time moving from black-and-white to color, from film to digital and to video. The blog title is a nod to an earlier era of news photography and the 4x5 Speed Graphic: It's more important to be there for the shot than to worry about technical details.

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