The longtime manager of the Capahas baseball program – a man who coached the team for 50 seasons – may have said it best.

“I just hope people recognize it for what it is,” Jess Bolen said. “It’s not my team. It’s Cape’s team.”

Indeed, Capahas baseball, a semi-pro amateur team for college players up to players in their mid-30s, took root in 1894 – making it the oldest team of its type to still be in existence in the United States – and has kept the name of its original sponsor, CA-PA-HA Flour Company, since the early 1900s.

In the past 50 years, it has been one of the most unique and most competitive semi-pro teams in the region, surviving thanks to various sponsorships, local families hosting players, a yearly auction with items donated by local merchants, an independent schedule and the dedication of Jess and Mary Bolen.

All of which has the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proud to induct Capahas baseball with the Class of 2016.

Perhaps no other year best illustrates Capahas baseball than the summer of 1988, when the team team made its annual trek to the Wichita, Kan.-based National Baseball Congress World Series, one of the premier semi-pro tournaments in the country.

In essence, the team ran out of money after a 13-day stay in which Capahas reached the semifinals following a string of comeback victories: from 5-1 to Valdosta, Ga., 4-1 to Jackson, Miss., 10-1 to Miami and 12-3 to Nogales, Ariz. Hours before the first pitch of the semifinal, played in front of 7,000 at the minor league baseball park in downtown Wichita, Bolen made a phone call.

Players already had footed part of the travel bill, forking over $20 each up front for three days of hotel stays, and the Bolens brought $1,000 just in case.

“And were handing out 20 dollar bills,” Bolen said. “Finally, I called Mike Kohlfeld (a beer distributor), and said, ‘We’re going to have to start sleeping in the van.’ He said, ‘Have all the motel bills sent to me.’”

The team has been near and dear Bolen, a former Capahas player and its manager for 50 years before he piloted his final game in 2016, finishing with a 1,519-411 overall record.

Since 1980, the Capahas have won 20 state and regional titles (and earned six other at-large berths) to advance to the NBC, where 10 times it finished in the top 10. That includes a fourth-place finish in 2014, when the Capahas were voted the NBC World Series’ Best Defensive Team after committing only one error in 63 innings.

Just as impressive, Bolen kept the program afloat for decades on a shoe-string budget. At one point, he secured sponsorships of 10 years from Kohlfeld Distributing in the 1980s and then Plaza Tire Service for 11 years before Burger King hopped on board in 2016. The Isle Casino near Cape Girardeau also has hosted the team’s yearly auction.

Just as important, Bolen gained assistance from construction companies and other businesses as he grew the team from a Sunday-only, doubleheader schedule against area teams into a travel squad of regional college players.

For instance, construction foremen allowed Bolen, whose day job was as a pipe-fitter and plumber, to end work early on game days. Other local business, including the city’s parks and recreation department, hired Capahas players who needed a summer job just so that they could share an apartment in Cape and keep their baseball dreams alive.

College players had reason to join Capahas, given the allure of the NBC World Series. That’s where scouts had found great gems such as future big-leaguers Ron Guidry, Dave Winfield, Don Sutton, Tom Seaver and Kirk Gibson, to name a few.

Several Capahas found their way to the big leagues, including right-hander Cliff Politte, who was part of the Chicago White Sox’s World Series team in 2005, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Kerry Robinson and Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Henneman, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Scott Little and Los Angeles Angels pitcher Matt Palmer.

“My wife and I have run the team so long that the players are like our kids to us,” said Bolen, a 2011 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “It’s not unusual to come home and see four or five kids eating chili or soup.”

What a run it’s been.

“We have had three or four people tell us they saw that Cooperstown recognized Capahas as the oldest team of its kind,” Bolen said. “That’s a great compliment for the city of Cape.”