For the first time in four decades, Melaleuca Field is getting a new outfield wall.
The new fence has been under construction since the end of the 2015 Idaho Falls Chukars season, and it is scheduled to be completed in mid-May. Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said the old plywood fence was rotting, so the City of Idaho Falls could no longer put off the project.
“It needed to be done,” Greene said. “When you build a ballpark like Melaleuca Field, you need to maintain it.”
The last time the city built a new wall at Melaleuca Field was around 1974, according to Idaho Falls Parks and Cemetery superintendent Brent Martin, who is overseeing the new wall project. The previous wall was built after a windstorm blew the wall over. The new wall survived a fire that burned down Melaleuca Field (then Highland Park) in 1975, and it lasted until this previous fall.
The fence was ready to be replaced years ago.
The stadium was rebuilt — and renamed Melaleuca Field — in 2007, but there wasn’t enough money to replace the outfield wall, Greene said. Martin said the city council repeatedly denied Parks and Recreation requests to fund a new wall due to high proposed costs.
As the years passed, the wall became increasingly unstable.
“There were support beams that were literally sheared off from the bottom,” Greene said. “I would go up there on an extension ladder and the whole thing would shake. I felt unsafe being 8-10 feet off the ground.”
Greene said the Kansas City Royals, the Chukars’ MLB affiliate, contacted him asking for the wall to be replaced out of concern for player safety.
The wall came down shortly after the Chukars’ season ended in September.
Martin said the city budgeted $125,000 for the new wall, and so far the city has spent $70,000 on materials. Greene also secured contracts with Rodda Paint, Ashgrove Cement and Valley Ready Mix for the project.
High school baseball teams are currently playing at Melaleuca Field in front of an unfinished wall of plywood. Greene said the wall will be completed in less than two months, before the Chukars come to town. The wall’s advertisement banners will be placed in the exact same spots as last year, which will help mask the changes to fans this summer.
“It will look just like it did before,” Greene said. “You won’t notice any difference.”
Several former Idaho Falls Chukars picked up 2015 minor league awards from the Kansas City Royals.
Jonathan Dziedzic, who pitched for Idaho Falls’ Pioneer League championship team in 2014, won the Paul Splitorff Award given to the organization’s top minor league pitcher. Dziedzic went 10-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 27 appearances for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals and AAA Omaha.
Elier Hernandez, who spent 2012 and 2013 in Idaho Falls, won the Carlos Fortuna Award given to the player who is dedicated to improving his english, his work ethic and his conduct. Hernandez hit .268 with 26 doubles, six homers and 54 RBIs in 124 games in Wilmington (A) and Lexington (A).
Parker Morin, a 2012 Chukar, won the Mike Sweeney Award given to the player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Morin hit .309 with 10 doubles, four homers and 30 RBIs in 56 games for Northwest Arkansas.
Ryan O’Hearn, the 2014 Pioneer League MVP as a member of the Chukars, won the George Brett Hitter of the Year award given to the top position player in the organization. O’Hearn his .263 with 21 doubles, 27 homers and 77 RBIs in 127 games for Wilmington and Lexington.
Nonprofit/charitable opportunities at Melaleuca Field
The Idaho Falls Chukars will be offering several opportunities for nonprofit and charitable organizations to enjoy games for free this summer.
The Rocky Mountain Power Community Section will provide 20 seats for each home game to a local nonprofit or charitable organization. For information, call the Chukars at 522-8363.
The Fred Meyer Community Spotlight program will offer local nonprofit and charitable organizations to set up a table at the entrance to Melaleuca Field for direct fan interaction. There is no cost for the table. Call 522-8363 for information.
The Idaho Falls Chukars released their 2016 schedule this week.
I.F.’s first six games will be played at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars kick off the season with a two-game series against the Ogden Raptors, who are in the Pioneer League South Division with the Chukars, Orem Owlz and Grand Junction Rockies. Opening night is June 17 and first pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
The Chukars host Orem for a four-game series following Ogden. I.F. also hosts the Owlz for a two-game series Sept. 7 and 8 to end the regular season.
I.F. beat Orem in three games to advance to the 2015 Pioneer League Championship, where it lost to Missoula in three games. The Chukars’ first 2016 series against the Osprey is a four-gamer at home beginning July 16.
The second Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All Star Game will be played Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah.
The Chukars went 38-38 last season and won the Pioneer League South second half title with a 25-13 record — their best record in a half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate in 2004.
The Royals clinched their first World Series title in 30 years on Sunday. They beat the New York Mets in five games. Former Chukar Salvador Perez (catcher) was named World Series MVP.
Chukars’ full 2016 schedule
June 17-18 vs Ogden
June 20-23 vs Orem
June 24-27 at Ogden
June 30-July 3 vs Grand Junction
July 4-5 vs Ogden
July 6-7 at Ogden
July 8-11 at Orem
July 12 off (MLB All-Star Game)
July 13-15 vs Helena
July 16-19 vs Missoula
July 20 off
July 21-24 at Helena
July 25-27 at Missoula (end of first half)
July 28-31 vs Grand Junction
Aug. 1 off
Aug. 2 Northwest League vs Pioneer League All-Star Game
Aug. 3 off
Aug. 4-7 at Great Falls
Aug. 8-10 at Billings
Aug. 11 off
Aug. 12-14 vs Great Falls
Aug. 15-18 vs Billings
Aug. 19 off
Aug. 20-23 at Grand Junction
Aug. 24-25 at Orem
Aug. 26-27 vs Orem
Aug. 28-31 vs Ogden
Sept. 1-4 at Ogden
Sept. 5-6 at Orem
Sept. 7-8 vs Orem
The Idaho Falls Chukars took the field for 82 games this season, the maximum any Pioneer League team can play. In many years, that would equate to a championship.
They fell one win short.
The Chukars fell to the Missoula Osprey 8-1 in Wednesday night’s winner-take-all championship series game in front of 1,178 fans at Ogren-Allegiance Park in Missoula, Mont. Missoula captured its fourth Pioneer League championship, and its second over Idaho Falls. The Osprey beat the Chukars in 2006, as well.
“Who wanted it more than these guys? Nobody did, nobody did,” Osprey manager Joe Mather told The Missoulian, shortly before taking an icewater bath and unveiling a banner. “This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so proud of these guys. It was a team effort the entire way.”
Missoula has now won Pioneer League titles in 1999, 2006, 2012 and 2015.
The Chukars were vying for their second league title. The first came in 2013.
On Wednesday, I.F. took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth and had a chance to score more. But they left the bases loaded. In the bottom half of the inning, Missoula scored three runs, and it never relinquished the lead.
The Osprey scored one in the fifth and four in the sixth to build an insurmountable lead.
Some of the lights went out at Ogren-Allegiance Park right before the ninth inning started, forcing a 20-minute delay, according to The Missoulian, the Chukars and the Osprey. Third baseman Jose Martinez led the inning off with a single, but the Chukars couldn’t get anything else going, and the Osprey celebrated their title.
Counting playoffs, I.F. finished 2015 with a 41-41 record. After the Chukars’ 13-25 first half, getting to the playoffs felt almost unfathomable. But they flipped their first half record in the second half and held off Ogden for the second half division title. I.F.’s 25-13 second half record is its best half since becoming a Royals affiliate in 2004.
The Chukars took the Pioneer League South championship series over Orem in dramatic fashion. They had a chance to sweep in Game 2, but they gave up four runs in the final two innings. Game 3 went to extra innings, and I.F. prevailed 4-3 in 10.
I.F. gave up a team-high 17 runs in an eight-run loss to Missoula in Game 1 of the championship series at Melaleuca Field, but the Chukars bounced back with a 5-3 win at Missoula on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Chukars hoped to end the season with a 42-40 record and their second championship trophy in three years. Instead, 41-41 and a magical season that fell just short.
Note: With a double and a walk Wednesday night, Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt finished the season with a 60-game on-base streak. That’s the best in affiliated baseball this season, according to the Chukars.
Bill Speltz of The Missoulian contributed to this report
MISSOULA, Mont. — One fateful swing changed everything.
The Missoula Osprey appeared well on their way to a series-clinching win Tuesday night, leading Idaho Falls by three runs after four innings.
Then an error by Osprey third baseman Kal Simmons cracked the door in the fifth and Amalani Fukofuka pushed it open with a go-ahead, three-run blast.
The Osprey never recovered, dropping a 5-3 decision in Game 2 of their best-of-3 Pioneer League championship series in front of 1,568 fans at Ogren-Allegiance Park. The teams will battle tonight in a winner-take-all game at 7:05 p.m. in Missoula.
For nine innings this season, including four Tuesday, Osprey starting pitcher Cameron Smith owned the Chukars, refusing to allow a run. That all changed with two outs and two on in the fifth on an 0-2 pitch to Fukofuka.
“He battled off enough pitches and got enough of one to get it out of here and obviously that really ended up being the difference in the game,” Osprey manager Joe Mather said. “That’s their 3-hole hitter and it was against our best pitcher and he made a good swing on a pitch.”
From there the momentum stayed on the Chukars’ side. Missoula finally got something going offensively in the ninth when Jason Morozowski hit a leadoff single and Luke Lowery was hit by a Josh Staumont pitch. But Staumont responded by striking out Matt Railey and retiring Joey Armstrong on a fly ball to center.
“Fuko got us out in front, but I thought our pitchers did an outstanding job,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Starter Derek) Gordon, they got some runs off him early. It’s a really good baseball team here in Missoula, really good hitters. But I thought he bounced back well.”
Gordon was a warrior, allowing three runs on three hits in 62/3 innings. He also recorded 10 strikeouts, the most by a Chukars pitcher in a game all season.
From there Drew Milligan and Staumont shut down the hosts in relief.
“I actually thought (Gordon) pitched a pretty good game,” Mather said. “He was one of the better pitchers in the league. Maybe not win-loss wise but his ERA was good, he throws strikes.
“That was it. I don’t think our guys were necessarily pressing. We had 17 (runs) the game before and it’s hard to repeat that.”
The Osprey jumped on Gordon in the first inning, scoring two runs. Leadoff hitter Raymel Flores drew a walk and Morozowski drove him home on a one-out double to right center field.
The Osprey’s second run came as a result of an error by Idaho Falls first baseman Josh Banuelos. Byler hit a bouncer to first that Banuelos misplayed then threw away in haste, allowing Morozowski to score from second.
Banuelos hit a bloop single and moved to second in the Idaho Falls second inning. But Smith buckled down, striking out Marten Gasparini and Xavier Fernandez to end the threat.
Osprey catcher Francis Christy blasted a one-out solo home run to stretch his team’s lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the second. Idaho Falls had a baserunner in the fourth but again Smith slammed the door, striking out Gasparini.
The Chukars’ fifth-inning rally started when a Fernandez grounder scooted under Simmons’ glove at third and rolled into left field. Two outs later, DJ Burt lined a single up the middle to set the stage for Fukofuka’s three-run blast.
Idaho Falls added an insurance run in the eighth and will take momentum into Game 3 tonight after being humbled by the Osprey at home on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
“The key (Wednesday) is going to be pitching and defense, that’s playoff baseball,” Mather said. “Hopefully we come out and score a bunch of runs early. We did that today but we couldn’t add on to it.
“These guys have a ton of fight in them left. I know they’re going to be itching to go.”
Sunday marked the Idaho Falls Chukars’ final home game of 2015. It was game one of the Pioneer League championship series.
It ended up being one of Idaho Falls’ worst losses of the season.
Aided by four home runs, the Missoula Osprey pounded the Chukars 17-9 in front of 1,044 fans Sunday at Melaleuca Field. One more win will net the Osprey their fourth Pioneer League title.
“We’re playing a pretty dang good team, if not the hottest team in the league,” Missoula’s first-year manager Joe Mather said. “By no means is the series over. We’re going to come out and work hard on Tuesday and not take anything for granted.”
I.F. gave up 16 runs in each of its first two games of the season, both losses to Grand Junction. The Chukars went 77 games without giving up that many runs in a game. The streak ended at the worst time.
Arnaldo Hernandez made his second start for I.F. after being called up from the Arizona League on Sept. 7. He lasted gave up three runs — all in the top of the second — in three innings. All three runs were unearned due to an error by shortstop Marten Gasparini, but Hernandez was not blameless. He gave up two hits, four walks and a 441-foot two-run home run to Kal Simmons (4 for 5, six RBIs).
Todd Eaton relieved Hernandez in the fourth, but he lasted 0.1 innings. Eaton gave up four runs (all earned) for a game ERA of 108.00.
Cruz Guevara replaced Eaton and gave up a 452-foot two-run home run to Jason Morozowski.
“We left some balls up, and they took advantage of our mistakes,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “We have to do a better job executing.”
The Osprey increased their lead to 16-4 in the top of the seventh inning on a grand slam from shortstop Isan Diaz.
In six games from Sept. 6 to Sept. 9, Missoula scored 16 total runs. They hadn’t scored more than 10 runs since Aug. 25.
Sunday’s win extended Missoula’s three-game playoff winning streak. They scored 13 total runs in their two wins over Billings. The Osprey’s 17 runs on Sunday are a season-high and the most they’ve scored in a game since their 22 on July 25, 2014.
“The bats have really come on at the right time,” Mather said. “We were fortunate enough to get pitches to hit, and the guys executed.”
First baseman Josh Banuelos (3 for 4, walk), left fielder Roman Collins (3 for 5, double) and third baseman Jose Martinez (3 for 4, triple, walk) each had three hits for the Chukars.
Monday is a travel day for each team, so the series will resume in Missoula Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. I.F. sends right-hander Derek Gordon to the mound to face lefty Cameron Smith.
A win would net the Osprey their first Pioneer League title since 2012.
Two wins would give the Chukars their second Pioneer League championship since becoming a Kansas City Royals affiliate in 2004.
“I’m proud of the way these guys have battled all year,” Gemoll said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The second-half magic continued in the postseason for the Idaho Falls Chukars.
Nick Dini hit an RBI single in the top of the 10th inning, Jacob Bodner tossed a perfect bottom of the 10th and the Chukars beat the Orem Owlz 4-3 in the decisive third game of the Pioneer League South Division playoff series Friday at Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem, Utah.
The win sends Idaho Falls into the championship series for the second time in three years. Game 1 of the series is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday against North Division champion Missoula at Melaleuca Field. Idaho Falls went 3-4 against the Osprey this year, losing four straight in Montana before taking the next three games at Melaleuca.
Friday’s game was close throughout, with neither team holding more than a one-run lead.
Orem, which won the first-half South Division title, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on a one-out double by David Fletcher and an RBI single from Jeff Boehm.
Idaho Falls answered in the third when Jose Martinez singled with one out, moved to second on a groundout and scored on D.J. Burt’s triple to center field. The hit extended Burt’s on-base streak to 57 games.
The Chukars grabbed a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Josh Banuelos led off with a single, moved to second on Marten Gasparini’s single and scored on Roman Collins’ two-out single to center.
Orem came back to tie it in the fifth on a leadoff walk and stolen base from Fletcher and a single from Boehm. The Owlz went back ahead in the seventh when Kenny Towns belted a one-out double to score Brandon Sanger.
Pioneer League RBI leader Banuelos tied the game back up, smacking the first pitch he saw over the fence in right leading off the eighth.
Tripp Davis got out of a jam in the bottom of the ninth, striking out Jared Walsh with runners on first and third.
Idaho Falls took advantage of the chance when Brandon Dulin reached on a wild-pitch strikeout with one out. He was replaced by Rudy Martin, who stole second. After Gasparini struck out, Dini smacked a line-drive single to center to score Martin with the go-ahead run.
Bodner, a late-season call-up making just his third appearance for the Chukars, pitched a 1-2-3 10th to begin the celebration.
The Chukars’ bullpen was lights out, allowing just an unearned run in five innings on three hits and two walks while striking out three. Banuelos had a big night, going 3 for 5 with two runs scored and an RBI while Dini and Collins each went 2 for 5 with an RBI.
The Idaho Falls Chukars held a three-run lead with six outs remaining. Then they led by one with two outs.
If they preserved the lead, they’d be headed to the Pioneer League championship.
Now they’re heading to an elimination game.
The Orem Owlz clawed back from a 5-2 eighth-inning deficit and earned a 6-5 walkoff win in game two of the Pioneer League South Division championship series Thursday at Orem, Utah. Tonight’s game in Orem will determine who advances to the championship.
After three scoreless innings, the Chukars took control of the game in the fourth.
First baseman Josh Banuelos (1 for 4) drove in second baseman D.J. Burt with a two-out double. The next batter was designated hitter Brandon Dulin, who bombed a two-run home run for a 3-0 lead.
Orem’s designated hitter Jared Walsh answered, hitting solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings to cut I.F.’s lead to 3-2.
But the Chukars extended the lead back to three in the top of the eighth. Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka (1 for 4) hit an RBI double, and he scored two batters later on a single from Dulin (2 for 4).
I.F.’s bullpen woes began with Matt Ditman, who loaded the bases with no outs to start the bottom of the eighth. Orem scored one run on a groundout, and another came in on an error from shortstop Marten Gasparini. Ditman suddenly had a one-run lead to work with, and the bases were loaded with one out, but he escaped the threat.
Brian Bayliss recorded the first out of the ninth inning, but he subsequently walked first baseman Jeff Boehm. The next batter was center fielder Jared Foster, who drove Boehm in with a double. Bayliss walked the next two batters, bringing up catcher Angel Genao. He grounded to Burt, but the Chukars couldn’t complete the double play, and the Owlz forced another game.
Chukars starter Bryan Brickhouse gave up one run (earned) on four hits, a walk and three strikeouts in his four innings of work.
Julio Pinto gets the start tonight for the Chukars in their playoff rubber-match at Orem. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15.
In the North Division, Missoula knotted up its series with Billings after a 7-5 win Thursday night.
Royals honor Fukofuka, Gordon
On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals announced their players and pitchers of the year for each minor league affiliate. Fukofuka was named I.F.’s player of the year, and Derek Gordon was named its pitcher of the year.
Wednesday might have marked the Idaho Falls Chukars’ final home game of 2015.
But they seem on track to play at Melaleuca Field one more time.
I.F. hosted the Orem Owlz on Wednesday night for the first game of the Pioneer League South Division championship series. The game played out like so many in the second half. The Chukars won 6-2.
“They have fun together, and it seems like a different guy is stepping up every night,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said.
After a 13-25 first half, the Chukars won the second-half division title with a 25-13 record. The turnaround was incredible by itself, but the second half was also historic. Before this season, I.F.’s best half since becoming a Kansas City Royals’ Rookie affiliate in 2004 came in 2009, when it went 23-14 in the second half.
If anyone expected playoff jitters from the Chukars, they didn’t appear during the first few innings of Wednesday’s game.
I.F. starting pitcher Derek Gordon retired Orem’s first six batters on 13 pitches. The Chukars scored once in the first inning and four times in the second inning, although Orem should have limited the damage to one run in the second.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning, second baseman D.J. Burt grounded back to pitcher Jeff Malm. The left-hander got a forceout at home, and catcher Tanner Lubach tried to double up Burt at first. But first baseman Jeff Boehm couldn’t corral the throw, and the inning went on.
Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka came up next and smoked the first pitch down the right-field line. Ten seconds later, Fukofuka was standing at third base and the Chukars led 5-0.
Shortstop Marten Gasparini went 3 for 4 with two stolen bases in his third game back from Japan, where he represented Team Italy in the World Baseball and Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.
“My head was with the (Chukars) the whole time I was over there,” Gasparini said. “I was ready to play in the playoffs. I was looking forward to this moment since the start of the second half.”
Center fielder Cody Jones went 2 for 3 with a walk and third baseman Jose Martinez went 1 for 2 with a walk.
I.F. hopes to clinch the series tonight at Orem, Utah. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15, and Bryan Brickhouse will start on the mound for the Chukars.
If the Owlz win tonight, both teams will play at Orem again Friday to determine who will go to the Pioneer League championship. I.F. would host the first championship game on Sunday if it gets past Orem. In the North Division series, Billings took a 1-0 series lead with a 5-2 win over Missoula.