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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Just what the doctor ordered

Sunday, May 5, 2002

In an area where basketball is king and football comes in a close second, baseball has always taken a backseat among the "big three" in high school sports in Southeast Missouri.

Go to any high school basketball game on a Friday night, and you're lucky sometimes to get a seat. Go to any big football game in the area, and thousands turn out to see the game.

Pick out the best baseball game any year, and you can hear a pin drop in between pitches.

That is, until last year's inaugural SEMO Conference Baseball Tournament at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau.

Last year's third place game and championship game, which was played on a Monday night, rivaled basketball and football in terms of fan attendance and excitement.

The third place game was between Cape Central and cross-city rival Notre Dame. The championship game between Sikeston and Chaffee immediately followed the third place contest.

At its peak, I've heard anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people were in attendance. Of course, there is no way Capaha Field's bleachers can accommodate that many people, but there were fans all over the hillside down the first base side in addition to the fans in the stands.

In fact, I rank the atmosphere during the Sikeston-Chaffee game right up there with any state playoff game I saw last year, including the baseball 3A Final Four in Columbia.

But getting to the point, this tournament could be just what the doctor ordered in an area where baseball is rapidly growing in popularity.

First of all, it's played on the area's biggest stage at Capaha Field. It's a good location with the best facilities. Plus, the tournament involves most of the area's best teams. Traditionally strong area teams like Kennett and Farmington miss out on the fun since they aren't in the conference.

And another thing, this tournament is unpredictable. Sikeston has barely averted first round upsets two years in a row now, and luck had a lot to do with it.

Now maybe last year's success was due to the tournament playing out perfectly from a fan's perspective. Maybe it was just a case of curiosity, or maybe people were interested in seeing the area's best pitcher (Chaffee's Matt Stroup) battle one of Class 3A's best teams in Sikeston.

Both the communities of Chaffee and Sikeston are among the tops in the area in fan following, not to mention, the best rivalry in the area (Cape Central-Notre Dame) was played right before the finals.

I'm hoping in the coming years that no matter who reaches the finals, that the atmosphere and the electricity on that championship Monday night will be just as thrilling as last year's tournament.

There's no way high school baseball will ever duplicate the crowd of 8,000 I saw at Jackson when they hosted Hazelwood East in the Class 5A football playoffs.

And there's probably no way baseball can generate the crowds that the high school basketball playoffs put out.

But with this new conference tournament, area high school baseball is taking a step in the right direction.