If there is one summer sports constant in Cape Girardeau, it's that the Plaza Tire Capahas will have an impressive season.
Manager Jess Bolen expects that trend to continue, although he stops short of saying the Capahas will be as strong as last year's team that went 29-7 and made the program's 27th consecutive National Baseball Congress World Series appearance.
That's because the Capahas will be without 12 key players who were with the squad at the 2008 NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan.
"That's a lot of guys to lose off one team," said Bolen, whose team opens the season today with a 5 p.m. home game against the Charleston Riverdogs. "I don't know if we'll be as good as we were last year, but we'll be OK."
"It's always exciting to get a new season started," said Bolen, who was inducted into the NBC Hall of Fame during last year's World Series.
The Capahas' biggest annual goal is to reach the NBC World Series, where they went 2-2 last year after they finished seventh each of the previous two seasons.
"That's what you shoot for every year," Bolen said. "If you make it then it's been a pretty successful season."
Bolen will start the season with a 23-man roster, although that could fluctuate one way or the other as the summer progresses.
Thirteen of the 23 play or have played at Southeast Missouri State. Only six of the 23 are current college players, with many being ex-collegiate standouts.
"I'm interested to get going and see what we've got," Bolen said.
Returning position players are catcher John Amschler; catcher/infielder Josh Eftink; infielders Kendal Deason, Denver Stuckey and Matt Wagner; and outfielders Tom Bolen and Jerry Hodges.
Tom Bolen, the manager's son, is the Capahas' longest tenured player with 14 years of experience.
Infielder/outfielder Daryl Graham, a former Capaha who did not play last season, is back although he won't join the club until July 1.
Newcomers on the mound are Kirk Boeller, Matt Carter and Todd Strahlendorf, all Southeast products with Boeller the only one who has eligibility remaining.
Other new pitchers, who also can play infield and outfield positions, are Dustin Hunter and Garrett Stevens.
Rounding out the current roster are infielder/outfielder Sean Bard and catcher/outfielder Drew Pixley.
Bard recently completed an impressive career at Division I Mississippi Valley State, where he ranked among the Southwestern Athletic Conference's top offensive performers.
Hunter and Pixley both played at Mineral Area College this year, while Stevens played at Meramec Community College.
"We probably won't have all our guys available to start the season, but once we get everybody together, I think we'll be able to put a pretty good lineup on the field," Bolen said. "I don't know if this will be as big an offensive numbers type of team as last year.
"I think we'll be fine on the mound. We've got 10 or 11 pitchers and early in the year I think we'll have to depend a lot on our pitching."
Local high school products on the roster are Amschler (Perryville), Bard (Central), Boeller (Notre Dame), Bolen (Central), Chavez (Central), Deason (Kelly), Eftink (Notre Dame), LaBruyere (Central), Parham (Jackson), Stevens (Central) and Stuckey (Kelly).
Others from the region are Hunter (Senath), Mabury (Clearwater), McAlister (Clearwater) and Pixley (Dexter).
Bolen said Leigh, Southeast's ace as a senior this year, is a possibility to start today's opener. If he doesn't, it could be Strahlendorf, who also completed his eligibility at Southeast this year.
As for how long the 67-year-old Bolen will keep managing the Capahas, he said that is to be determined.
"I don't know. We'll see," he said. "I just take it year to year."
There has been speculation that Bolen's son Tom will replace his father as the Capahas' manager at some point in the future, but that is not set in stone.
"If he wants to take it over, he can, but that's up to him. I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him if he doesn't want to do it," Jess Bolen said.
* Bolen will be recognized for his 2008 NBC Hall of Fame induction by several of his former players before today's season opener.
* The Capahas again will host the NBC Mid-South Regional, which they have won the past four years. The tournament, which provides an automatic NBC World Series berth to the winner, will be July 10, 11 and 12.
* Plaza Tire home games will not be broadcast on ESPN 1220 for the first time in three years.
* The annual Capahas baseball camp, for boys and girls ages 7 to 17, will be held June 8 and 9 at Capaha Field. The cost is $65, which includes a Capahas T-shirt and lunch June 9. For more information, call 335-6644.