The Plaza Tire Capahas had a successful season last year, compiling a 30-12 record and making their 23rd straight appearance in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
But longtime manager Jess Bolen has some good news for fans who enjoy watching and following Cape Girardeau's tradition-rich summer baseball team.
"I think we have a chance to be better than last year," Bolen said.
The Capahas open their 39th season under Bolen's leadership tonight when the Valmeyer (Ill.) Lakers visit Capaha Field for an 8 p.m. first pitch. The squads also have a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday.
"We're looking forward to getting the season started," said Bolen, whose career record with the Capahas is 1,229-314.
The Capahas, who were founded in 1894, return 14 players from last season.
"We've got a veteran lineup, and I think it can be a pretty good lineup," Bolen said. "The team is laid out with a bunch of [recent college seniors] and upperclassmen, so it should be a pretty sound team as far as maturity."
The Capahas feature a distinct Ohio Valley Conference look around the field, with players from Southeast Missouri State, Morehead State and Murray State.
Returning from Southeast are Eric Horstman, who played center field last year but is projected at his college position of third base, along with outfielder Bryan Kurt and catcher Levi Olson.
Horstman was by far Southeast's leading hitter this season with a .358 average, as he made first-team all-OVC.
Morehead State's Lance Seasor, the OVC's player of the year after he batted .350 with 15 home runs, 16 doubles and 50 runs batted in, returns at second base, while his college teammate Bryan Ingram -- a first baseman who hit .347 with 16 homers, 19 doubles and 64 RBIs -- joins the squad. Both were first-team all-OVC.
Rounding out the OVC connection around the field is Murray State second baseman Seth Hudson, a Central High School graduate and returning player who batted .336 for the Thoroughbreds.
Another position player returning is outfielder Josh Eftink, a Notre Dame product who won't be with the Capahas for the first few games because he is one of the top players for the Central Missouri State team that is competing this week in the Division II World Series.
Eftink, who plays third base for the Mules and might see some action there as well as at catcher for the Capahas, is batting .329 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs.
Also returning are veteran outfielder Tom Bolen -- the coach's son and Central graduate and ranks as the longest-tenured current Capaha with a decade of experience -- shortstop Robbie Moore from Jefferson (Mo.) College and infielder Bryan Austin, a Jackson product who plays at Division II Fort Hays (Kan.) State and joined the Capahas late last year.
"We've got 31 [college] home runs from the right side of the infield, and 14 more from Josh Eftink," Jess Bolen said. "On paper at least, we should have pretty good power, but when you use wood bats like we do, it's a different game, and I don't expect nearly that many home runs, but I think we'll have some good hitters."
Returning pitchers are Jamie McAlister, Southeast's No. 2 starter this year; Josh Parham, a Jackson product who was a reliever for Southeast this year; Jason Chavez, a Central product who played for SIU the last two years; Chad Bogenpohl, from Oak Ridge and Southeast; and Chaffee's Matt Stroup. All but Parham are right-handers.
Joining Ingram as the only current newcomers -- although Bolen figures to add some players, particularly a few pitchers, in the coming weeks -- are left-handed pitcher Derek Herbig, a starter at Southeast this year, and first baseman Josh Ford, a Central product who plays junior college baseball in Alabama.
Bolen said Chavez, one of the Capahas' aces the last few years, will start tonight's opener.
"I look for us to have another good ballclub," Bolen said. "The goal is always to make it to the national tournament. If this team stays together all summer, and we don't have a bunch of injuries, I think we'll have another good shot at it."
Some highlights of the regular season will be home series against two perennial national powers as the St. Joseph (Mo.) Saints visit for two games June 11 and 12, and the Wichita (Kan.) Broncs come to town for three games July 2 through 4. The Capahas will also again host the NBC regional tournament in July.
"We've really got a great home schedule this year," Bolen said. "I encourage people to especially come out when the Saints and Broncs are in town. Those are two of the top teams in the nation every year."
3 -- Valmeyer, Ill., 8 p.m.
4 -- Valmeyer, Ill. (2), 1 p.m.
10 -- Riverdogs, 7 p.m.
11 -- St. Joseph, 7 p.m.
12 -- St. Joseph, 1 p.m.; Riverdogs, 5:30 p.m.
16 -- at Dawson Springs, Ky., 7:30 p.m.
17 -- St. Louis Printers, 8 p.m.
18 -- Riverdogs, 2 p.m.
19 -- at Springfield, Ill. (2), 1 p.m.
22 -- at St. Louis Golden Spikes, 7:30 p.m.
24 -- Dawson Springs, Ky., 7:30 p.m.
25 -- at St. Louis Printers (2), 1:30 p.m.
26 -- Springfield, Ill. (2), 1 p.m.
29 -- at St. Louis Golden Spikes, 7:30 p.m.
2 -- Wichita, Kan., 7 p.m.
3 -- Wichita, Kan., 7 p.m.
4 -- Wichita, Kan., 7 p.m.
6 -- at Fairview Heights, Ill., 7:30 p.m.
8 -- NBC Mid-South Regional, TBA
9 -- NBC Mid-South Regional, TBA
10 -- NBC Mid-South Regional, TBA
12 -- at Fairview Heights, Ill., 7:30 p.m.
16 -- St. Louis Golden Spikes (2), 2 p.m.
17 -- St. Louis Printers, 1:30 p.m.
19 -- at Centralia, Ill., 7:30 p.m.
22 -- Fairview Heights, Ill., 7:30 p.m.
23 -- at Valmeyer, Ill. (2), 1:30 p.m.
26 -- Centralia, Ill., 7:30 p.m.
27 -- Fairview Heights, Ill., 7:30 p.m.