Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Missoula Osprey 7 at Idaho Falls Chukars 5 (Pioneer League) - July 17, 2017

After driving through Central Idaho and stopping at Craters of the Moon National Monument (sample photo below), I arrived in Idaho Falls for the third time on the trip. The other two times I didn't stop even though there was a Chukars contest, as I had other games to attend a few hours away. This time, though, it was time to finally discover what a Chukar was, and complete the Pioneer League in the process.

The Chukars play out of Melaleuca Field, with the naming rights bought by a wellness company owned by local billionaire Frank L. VanderSloot. According to some locals I spoke to, there was controversy over the name, but as VanderSloot and Melaleuca provided $600,000 to help with the construction of the facility back in 2006, the name stands.

The stadium is located in a residential area just a mile or so north of downtown. As I arrived an hour before first pitch, I was surprised to see that the tiny parking lot was nearly full, and fans were parking on the street. I left my car at the first available spot and walked over. To confirm that you are in the right place, a statue of a player swinging stands atop the ticket office.

Prices here for the reserved box seats are $12, while GA is $8. Normally I would suggest the latter, but in this case, the GA sections ended up full and several patrons had to stand. I never did find out why the crowd was so large, although a promotion involving a local credit union might have had something to do with it.

Once inside the main entrance, you will be on a concourse behind the stadium structure.

Here is where you will find your concession stands, which offer an excellent variety and include some healthy options like carrots and celery, or my personal favourite, apples and caramel (sliced Granny Smiths served with melted caramel, as good as it sounds). The signature item is the Chukar Clukar, a chicken breast sandwich topped with bacon, french fries, and cole slaw, a bargain at $9, but one too heavy for me after nearly a month on the road. I chickened out and avoided the Clukar, choosing a simple hot dog and the apples.

There is a board describing the history of baseball in Idaho Falls, which is worth a read. It is right next to the sno-cone stand, which is possibly the best of its kind in baseball. A small cup is only $2.50 and the young men staffing the stand were extremely generous in doling out the syrup; I am still on a sugar high three days later.

You'll find the starting lineups and standings along the concourse as well.

The seating bowl is typical - 7 sections of Kelly green seats, and then some GA benches further down the lines. The sections directly behind the plate is C, then L1, L2, and so on along third base and R1, R2, etc. along first base.

There is also a walkway at the top of the seating bowl and you can stand here, particularly behind home plate, though it does get slightly bothersome with fans walking by all the time.

Three suites are on each side of home plate, and picnic areas down the lines, as it now customary at minor league venues.

The sun sets behind third base, so those GA seats fill up quick. If you end up at first base, you will have the sun in your eyes for a few innings, though netting should protect you from any foul balls lined at your head.

There are some retired numbers (and a retired microphone for Jim Garchow, who passed away in 2009) beneath the press box windows. Don Werner managed here between 1996-2000 as well as 2002 but is better known as the catcher of Tom Seaver's only no-hitter in 1978. Billy Butler played here in 2004.

As well, banners for those in the Idaho Falls Hall of Fame can be seen, including ex-Jay Devon White.

The scoreboard is basic, with just an electronic linescore and no video board.

A chukar is a type of partridge found in the area and Charlie is the friendly feathered mascot here. The moniker was the result of a name-the-team contest in 2004, after the team changed affiliations from the Padres to the Royals, who are still the parent club.

The now obligatory shadow selfie.

Overall, I found Melaleuca Field to be an enjoyable evening, helped by the overflow crowd and excellent concession offerings. Certainly a good way to end the Pioneer League portion of the trip.

The Game

It was a battle of the birds with the Missoula Osprey (Arizona) in town to take on the Chukars. Robert Garcia (15th round in 2017, standing below) started for the home team, while Kai-Wei Lin from Taiwan took the mound for Missoula. Neither pitcher was sharp, nor were they terrible, which is better than usual for this level.

Missoula went up 3-0 quickly helped by a couple of Chukar errors, but Idaho Falls responded with two in the second and another pair in the third to take a 4-3 lead. A 2-run homer from Joey Rose (5th, 2016) allowed the Osprey to once again move in front, but a Robby Rinn (25th, 2016) single in the bottom of the 7th scored Amalani Fukofuka (5th, 2013), who is disliked by broadcasters everywhere.

The tie was broken in the next half inning as Francis Martinez launched a 2-run shot off Damon Olds (33rd, 2017) and the Chukars could not come back from that one, losing 7-5 in a tidy 2:47.


Over 60% of Idaho Falls residents are Mormons, but the downtown still has a few decent bars. Surprisingly, many allow smoking, but BlackRock is one that doesn't and also has several good beers on tap.

I completed all 8 Pioneer League ballparks on this trip. Quick ranking:

1. Grand Junction - $3.50 beer!
2. Great Falls - excellent collection of history
3. Helena - one more season after this
4. Idaho Falls
5. Ogden - Downtown location and scenic views
6. Billings - needs more shade
7. Orem - NCAA park with no beer
8. Missoula - parking charge plus gates open only 30 minutes before

Home teams went 4-4 in my visits.



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