Take thousands out to the ballgame

Thursday, April 7, 2005

It wasn't quite a school record, but the combination of the state's highest-profile university as an opponent, Bluff City Beer providing free food and beverages, and rain staying away made for a huge crowd at Capaha Field on Wednesday.

And the announced 2,732 fans in attendance -- based on an estimation by Southeast Missouri State officials, since admission is free and no tickets are distributed -- were rewarded with a win by the home team.

Playing in front of the second-largest crowd for a baseball game in Southeast history, the Redhawks posted a stirring 8-5, 10-inning over the Missouri Tigers, the nation's 19th-ranked squad.

"Southeast baseball is great all the time, and I hardly ever miss a game," said Southeast student Dustin McKinnis. "But playing Missouri in a night game, with food and drinks being given out ... it doesn't get any better than that.

"I was worried that the game might get rained out, and it didn't look good for a while this morning. But it turned out to be a great night, and it's even better that we won."

The crowd was dominated by Southeast students, but plenty of adults -- ranging from young to middle-aged to senior citizens -- also soaked up the party-like atmosphere.

"If the weather holds out, this game is always one of the biggest crowds of the year," said Herb Nance of Cape Girardeau, who would only say with a smile that he's old enough to receive senior-citizen discounts. "You get the name school in the state here and it's always a lot of fun.

"I'm not a drinker, but this makes for a good atmosphere, and it brings up the crowd."

Several hundred fans had already showed up more than an hour before the game, and many of them did so to gobble up the prime parking spots right behind the first-base dugout, which allowed some the advantage of being able to sit on chairs in the beds of their trucks while watching the action.

"I parked my truck here at 2:30 p.m.," said Southeast student Ryan Dinkelman, who played for the Redhawks two years ago. Dinkelman added with a laugh, "I got the first beer they served."

Said a smiling McKinnis: "I parked my truck here at 11 a.m., my dad picked me up, and then I came back later."

While Southeast baseball is generally a good draw anyway -- this past weekend's conference series against Jacksonville State drew more than 800 fans for Saturday's doubleheader and more than 500 fans for Sunday's contest -- several special game sponsors throughout the season help boost attendance.

In addition to Bluff City Beer Night on Wednesday, it will be River Eagle Distributing Day on April 23 when Southeast plays Eastern Illinois, Kohlfeld Distributing Day on May 7 against Morehead State, and Health Facilities Rehab Day on May 20 against Tennessee-Martin.

"All four are big promoters of Southeast athletics, and we really appreciate all their support," Southeast marketing director Charlie Wiles said.

Last year when Southeast played Missouri on Bluff City Beer Night, an announced crowd of 3,084 showed up to set the school attendance record. But Bluff City Beer president Billy Bess lamented that, because there were so many fans, most of the food and beverages were gone by about the fourth inning.

But Wednesday, Bess made sure to double his supply of food -- which consisted of brats, burgers and chips -- and beverages, which consisted of beer and soda.

"We wanted to come prepared this time," said a grinning Bess as he worked the grill. "We've done this the last few years, and we enjoy helping support Southeast athletics. Beer, brats and baseball ... it's American."

While the majority of the crowd was behind the Redhawks, there was a solid group of Missouri supporters. The Southeast Missouri Black & Gold Alumni Chapter set up a tent -- along with a large, inflatable Tiger mascot -- to entertain fans of the Tigers.

"We just started the chapter this year. We've had a few events, like barbecues, but this is the first sporting event," said Ray Perez of Cape Girardeau, who spearheads the alumni chapter. "We heard it's a big crowd here anyway, so we contacted all alumni in the area, tried to get them out, cooked them some hot dogs.

"It's rare to get an MU team in town. We'll be outnumbered, but at least we'll support the team. They came all this way."

While Southeast fans basked in the victory, the Redhawks players were appreciative of all the enthusiastic support that they felt might have contributed to the victory.

"The big crowd was awesome," said shortstop Ernie Bracamonte, who hit the game-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning. "They supported us the whole way."

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