Author: Luke O'Roark

Chukars’ notebook: Q+A with Chukars GM Kevin Greene

By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

In sports, consistency is a key ingredient to success.

Kevin Greene

The Chukars haven’t always been successful, sure, but every summer you’re going to see a consistent face walking around Melaleuca Field: Chukars general manager Kevin Greene.

The Post Register sat down with the Chukars’ GM earlier this summer to ask about Greene’s background, his management style, why he became involved with the Chukars and what the future holds for the Kansas City Royals’ affiliate. Some components of the interview, questions and answers have been cut for brevity.

Post Register: Kevin, what is the status of (the Idaho Falls Chukars) and, in terms of yourself, where you’re at personally?

Kevin Greene: “You know, this is my 35th year in baseball but I’m only 56. I started as intern back in 1984 for the Rochester Red Wings (minor league affiliate for the Minnesota Twins in Rochester, New York). Sometimes the grind gets to me a little bit. But I think I see myself not getting out of the game anytime in the next 5-to-10 years. I do see myself adjusting my schedule. I spent all morning and most of the early afternoon on a bucket lift 35 feet in the air and people look at me, like, ‘Why do you do that? You’re the general manager.’ Um, I like to do that, but, I won’t be doing that 10 years from now. I might be still working here as a GM but I might be saying, ‘Hey, I need two guys to go up on that lift’ or I might be hiring a company to go upon that lift. I won’t be doing it myself anymore.”

PR: What’s made you stay (with the Chukars) … I know you’re originally from New York.

KG: When I moved out here, I thought I was on a three-year plan to do a little bit of resume building, like a lot of people that come out here, but then you find out: not only is it a really good town to raise your family in — and you like all the atmosphere of the Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, rivers, mountains, all that — but you also find out, you know, if you find somebody that you connect with that you work for. Having that special relationship with your boss. That’s made this a special job for me. My boss, Dave Elmore, who’s owned this team since 1986, he comes out a few times a year. He lets us do our thing. I send him the reports and as long everything is to his satisfaction, he lets us run the team. And that is so important. When I worked in Rochester, we were micromanaged in Rochester. And it was tough, it was very tough. … Here, having one boss, who knows the business and knows how to manage, he allows us to take the reins and run with it.

PR: I’ve seen inside the office and I certainly understand, what it seems like, that “laissez-faire” kind of approach.

KG: It is. I’m not going to ask someone to go out and clean a bathroom right now if I’m not willing to do it myself. I went out and raked the warning track for a couple of hours. It’s what we do.

PR: Where does that management style stem from? Where does it come from?

KG: When I worked in Rochester, even though we had board oversight, when they were letting us do our thing, the staff all worked like the way we do here. I felt like we all worked on the same level and it was communicative and we all had each other’s back. And if an intern asks me, ‘Hey, Kevin, can you help me with his,’ I don’t say, ‘I’m the GM, you’re the intern’ and I don’t help him. It doesn’t work that way. We all work together, and that’s what I’ve always tried to preach and I’ve always said: I’ve worked with people that have been difficult, and I hope I never get that way.

PR: So, when did that management style start?

KG: When I moved out here in ‘93. Maybe I was a little staunched, thinking that’s how you were supposed to be, but I loosened up. We had a really small staff, and we all got along great. So, that’s what I like. I like a small staff where we can all trust each other to get their job done and if there’s an issue, we can work it out together.

PR: Because it seems like most, some businesses use that management model where it’s a “top-down”. I’m guessing you don’t believe in that (model)?

KG: You know, as long as we get our work done, it doesn’t matter (what it looks like). I’m dressed a slob right now, I’ll admit that. But I’m not going to come in here with a suit on and just point at banners and say, ‘Hey, get those hanged. I expect them to be done in 40 minutes.’ How are the people who work for me going to respect me, or want to work for me, for very long? I think that’s part of the reason I’m able to keep quality people here — people, maybe, trying to climb through minor league baseball. Quality people have stayed longer than they should have and I think it’s because they really like the atmosphere.

PR: It seems like year in and year out there’s some change, but you’ve stayed.

KG: Yeah, I’m the one constant, I guess. I think Paul Henderson is a constant. He’s from Idaho Falls and I hope when I step down I can turn the reins over to him and let him have a nice, long run at it.

PR: Any goals left for you? You mentioned 30-plus years in the business…anything that still drives you?

KG: You know, I would love to win more rings. Love to win more championships. Those are the highlights of what we do here. Some of the most memorable things in baseball are going to playoff games and rushing the field and knowing you get to start designing a ring the next week. That’s always a lot of fun. I like the camaraderie. One day I was in the winter meetings, it was after dinner and I was at a sports bar, with a lot of baseball people, and I looked around and said, ‘My gosh, I know more people here than I don’t know.’ At that point, I felt like I was a part of it.

PR: It was interesting, you mentioned earlier the feeling of winning and the playoff atmosphere, but I feel like that juxtaposes, at times, with the attitude of the club/minors. You know, ‘these kids are learning’, ‘winning may not be everything’. Any thoughts on that juxtaposition? You obviously want a viable, winning organization, but there’s also that attitude of ‘Hey, these kids are learning.’

KG: It is. This is player development. Every player out here with the ultimate goal of helping the Kansas City Royals make it back to the World Series and win one, that’s what the goal is. Along the way, it would be great if the Royals won at the Idaho Falls level, they win at the Lexington level, they win at Omaha. That’s great. It helps these kids know how to win, winning baseball players, as they are being prepared for the major leagues. We’re just fortunate as a small town with the opportunity to watch future major leaguers perform at this level in this little ballpark. I think it’s special for a town this size.

Standings (through Friday’s games)

Pioneer League North

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 21-13

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 17-17

Helena Brewers (MIL) 16-18

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 13-21

Pioneer League South

Ogden Raptors (LAD) 23-11

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 19-15

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 17-17

Orem Owlz (LAA) 10-24

Increasing stock

Reed Rohlman.

The Chukars’ first baseman has batted 11 for 21 during the previous five games including an impressive 4 for 5 day at the plate against Missoula. He’s batting .357 with an OPS of 1.017.

Decreasing stock

Jonathan Bowlan.

Bowlan — the Royals’ second round pick this previous draft — holds a 1-1 record with a 4.71 ERA. He’s struck out 13 in 21 innings pitched, and gave up seven earned runs in a 12-0 loss to Missoula on July 14.

Recent transactions (from July 5 to July 21)

– Outfielder Kyle Isbel was promoted to the Lexington Legends on July 19.

– Outfielder Hunter Strong was assigned to the Chukars from the Burlington Royals on July 17.

– Right-handed pitcher Christopher Marte was released on July 13.

– Wilmington Blue Rocks sent catcher Chase Vallot on a rehab assignment to Idaho Falls on July 10.

– Third baseman Angel Medina was assigned to the Chukars from Burlington on July 7.

Upcoming

Idaho Falls finishes its seven-game road trip Tuesday at Missoula before starting a three-game home series against Orem Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is 7:15 p.m.

Chukars beat Owlz on Fourth of July, 3-1

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Another Independence Day, another Chukars win.

In front of a sold-out crowd of 3,686, Idaho Falls beat the Orem Owlz, 3-1, Wednesday thanks to C.J. Eldred’s solid command on the mound and Tyler James quick base running.

Chukars’ Connor Mayes reacts after Chukars’ Nathan Eaton scores in the second inning as the Chukars take on Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field on Thursday, June 28, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Eldred worked the Owlz’ struggling offense with five strikeouts and trust in his defense by putting the ball in play. The Chukars allowed just one error — a fielding error from third baseman Nate Eaton — in the top of the eighth to allow the Owlz’ only run.

The Owlz would never threaten again, as Eldred (3-0) went seven innings, allowing just three hits and one walk. Robert Garcia recorded his second save of the season, closing the door in the final two frames.

“It was nice,” Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said. “We had a rough series in Ogden, the pitching wasn’t there. We struggled on the mound. … It’s nice to see the pitching keep us in the game. I always say that: just keep us in the game. Just go out there, we don’t need a shut out, just keep us in the game. We have a good offensive team.”

For James, the speedster from Slidell, Louisiana, went 2 for 3 and kept the Chukars’ offense honest with four stolen bases.

James said he’s pride himself on being aggressive on the bases this season. He leads the Pioneer League with 12 stolen bases this summer. The second? Ian Dawkins and teammate Kyle Isbel with seven.

“Well, the coaching staff told me that I need to be a little bit more aggressive and trust my speed,” James said. “And be a game changer.

The Chukars scored their three runs early, with Eaton hitting in a triple to score James during the bottom of the first. James then scored the Chukars’ next two runs on wild pitches from Nick Jobst.

“That is my game: get on base anyway I can whether it’s a walk, hit, error, bunt. And just try to score runs. Try to get in scoring position for the guys that knock me in,” James added.

Jose Caraballo went 2 for 4 at the plate, as the Chukars (sporting nifty, firework jerseys) collected eight hits.

“The jerseys are pretty sweet,” James added with a smile.

Player(s) of the game

Tyler James and CJ Eldred. The quick centerfielder went 2 for 3, including two stolen bases in the bottom of the third before sliding home on a wild pitch. He scored two runs.

Eldred (3-0) was solid on the mound. He shut out the Owlz during his seven innings pitched, allowing just three hits and one walk.

Quotable

“That is the Kansas City Royal’s identity. Run, run, run, run, run. I like to run (the bases, put pressure on defenses). That’s the Royals’ identity. And personally, I’m that type of manager.” — Omar Ramirez on Tyler James’ stolen bases.

Notable

– Idaho Falls sold out Melaleuca Field Wednesday, hosting 3,686.

– The Chukars have not loss on July 4th since 2015.

– During the bottom of the first, Reed Rohlman’s bat slipped out of his hands, eventually landing in the stands behind the first baseline. No one was injured.

– Orem starting pitcher Hector Yan injuried himself after one inning pitched. He allowed one hit, one run (earned) and one walk.

– Nate Eaton hit in his fourth triple Wednesday.

Upnext

The Chukars (12-8) return to Melaleuca Field Thursday to play game two of three against Orem (7-13). First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars notebook: Some split on new MiLB extra innings changes

Chukars’ Tyler James is called out at third as the Chukars take on Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field on Thursday, June 28, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

When the Idaho Falls Chukars and Grand Junction Rockies went to extra innings Friday at Melaleuca Field, Chukars fans saw something they probably haven’t seen: a free base runner starting on second at the start of every extra inning.

In March, the National Association of Professional Baseball incorporated a new rule regarding extra innings: if a minor league game goes to extra innings, both teams start with a base runner on second at the beginning of inning. The base runner at second is the inning’s leadoff hitter and is statistically counted as runner who’s reaching on an error (for purposes of determining earned runs), but no errors shall be charged.

This new policy was seen at Melaleuca Field for the first time Friday in the Chukars’ 7-6 12-inning win.

Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said the new rule doesn’t change their offensive gameplan much. Before Kyle Isbel ended the game with an RBI single to left field, both teams utilized small ball tactics. While the rule isn’t necessarily new to the minor league system — Ramirez said the Arizona League utilized the rule last summer — he was supportive of the new overhaul, as it saves team’s pitching and has the potential to keep players healthy.

“It depends on the hitter. Are we bunting or not?” said Ramirez when asked if strategies change due to the new rule. “Like, we’re not going to bunt when (Reed Rohlman) came to bat. Because he can get a double, hit it. With (Offerman Collado) or (Tyler James) we can bunt it. It depends on the hitter.”

“Let’s see how long it stays,” Ramirez added.

Chukars’ Nick Hutchins heads to third on a ground hit as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

The policy was created to try to keep players healthy, as well as speed up minor league games. The average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues was two hours, 45 minutes in 2016 and 2:29 last year, according to ESPN.

Friday’s game, while anecdotal, finished in three hours, 58 minutes.

“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” NAPBL president Pat O’Conner said in a March 14 report from ESPN. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”

Chukars’ designated hitter Nate Eaton said he was unaware of the rule change until Friday.

“I honestly didn’t know (about the new rule) until they said that I was the base runner when I went out there,” said Eaton, who finished 4 for 5 at the plate with two doubles. “I probably haven’t had that since I was 12-years-old. I mean, I don’t agree with the rule because I don’t think it should be easier to score runs quicker. If the game is going that long, it’s going that long for a reason and that’s because good baseball is being played, or bad baseball is being played on one side.”

Eaton said the game could be just as prolonged due to how offensive-orientated minor league games are.

“Oh yes, because you could easily score off a bunt and then a hit or sacrifice fly. Or go 0-0, just like we did there, and it keeps going,” Eaton said.

Standings (as of June 30th)

Pioneer League North

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 8-6

Helena Brewers (MIL) 8-6

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 7-6

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 4-9

Pioneer League South

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 10-5

Ogden Raptors (LAD) 9-6

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 6-9

Orem Owlz (LAA) 5-10

Increasing stock

J.C. Cloney, Kyle Isbel and Jose Caraballo.

After his batting average hit a lowly .111 on June 19, Caraballo has garnered a hit in eight-straight games for Idaho Falls. He’s gone 12-35 at the plate since his hitting streak started.

For Cloney, the 2017 ninth-round pick out of Castaic, Cali., has molded into the Chukars’ ace. The reliable southpaw is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.35. He’s struck 21 batters out — including 11 during his first start — and has allowed three earned runs on 14 hits.

As with Isbel, he’s batted .372 since joining the Chukars on June 19. He went 3 for 6 Friday night and gave the Chukars their third-straight win after hitting in Tyler James with an RBI single to left field in the bottom of the 12th.

Decreasing stock

Tyler Gray. In his first two starts with the Chukars, Gray owns a 15.88 ERA. He’s allowed 10 earned runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings of work. He’s struck out seven and walked two.

Recent transactions (from June 24 to June 30)

– Left-handed pitcher Derrick Adams was assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington on June 28.

– Right-handed pitcher Daniel Duarte was loaned to Idaho Falls from Tigres de Quintana Roo on June 30.

– Second baseman Carlos Diaz was assigned to Idaho Falls from the AZL Royals on June 30.

– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Michael Messier on June 30. Messier was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).

– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Joey Markus on June 30. Markus was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).

Upcoming

Idaho Falls is amidst a four-game away series at Ogden. The Chukars will be back Wednesday, July 4, to host Orem for three games. First pitch Wednesday is 4:30 p.m.

Rockies close the door on Chukars late

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Not many quick, close games happen in the Pioneer League.

Chukars’ Jose Caraballo and Jose Marquez round the bases as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

But a quick, close game is exactly what 2,869 Melaleuca Field attendees got Tuesday night.

The Grand Junction Rockies beat the Chukars 4-2 thanks to a three-run seventh inning and holding the Chukars scoreless in the final five frames.

The only stat most fans need to know after Tuesday: Idaho Falls is 0-5 when trailing after the eighth this season.

And indeed, the Chukars trailed after the Rockies scored three runs in the top of the seventh to take a two-run lead.

Down 4-2, the Chukars attempted to rally after a Jesus Atencio double in the bottom of the ninth got him to third and Andres Martin reached second after being walked.

But on a 2-2 count, with two outs, Alexander Martinez closed the doors on the hometown bird, striking out Offerman Collado.

Originally up 2-1, a throwing error by Collado, a Reese Berberet home run and a Cristopher Navarro RBI single to third was all Grand Junction need to get back into Tuesday’s game and hand the Chukars their fifth loss of the season.

The Chukars scored first Tuesday, as Tyler James reached home after Kyle Isbel grounded into a double play. The Chukars then scored another run in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a Nate Eaton ground out that scored first baseman Reed Rohlman.

Domingo Pena (1-1) took the loss, giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits while walking two and striking out four in 4.2 innings. Eris Filpo took the win, allowing two runs (both earned) on seven hits while walking three and striking out three in six innings.

Player(s) of the game

Offerman Collado. The shortstop was the Chukars’ most consistent at-bat Tuesday night. He went 3 for 5 at the plate. He did, however, have one throwing error and struck out during the last at-bat of the game.

Notables

– Jose Caraballo’s hit streak has reached six games. Jesus Atencio’s hitting streak has now reached five games.

– Rockies’ Cristopher Navarro was hit in the hand in the top of the ninth, but the play was called foul tip. Navarro was eventually walked.

– The Chukars’ offense has been sluggish as of late, scoring just three runs in the previous two games.

Upnext

The Chukars (7-5) host the Rockies today at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Chukars’ notebook: Olloque, fast start for Chukars

Chukars’ Nick Hutchins heads to third on a ground hit as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

You better get to Melalueca Field quick: some of the Chukars’ best are moving up rather quickly.

After Manny Olloque blasted two home runs against Ogden, he was recently bumped up to Lexington.

At Chukars media day earlier in the month, he mentioned the difficulty of moving up and down and around the country for minor league ball.

“You definitely have to have to have faith that’s for sure,” Olloque said on June 13. “You just gotta trust the process and can’t look to far ahead of that. Just play everyday and try not to worry too much about the other little things. … I got caught up with it this year, you know, but I’ve been staying strong with it and just having fun.”

Despite playing in triple-A Omaha for nine games earlier in the year, Olloque came back down to the rookie-A level, bring some experience and early season offense to Melaleuca Field. Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said Olloque wasn’t going to be held up in triple-A for too long — he was called up as an emergency call, per Ramirez — but it was clear from Chukars’ opening day that Olloque wouldn’t be in Idaho Falls for too long either.

He batted .474 in 19 at-bats, knocking in nine RBIs, two home runs, a triple and two doubles. One of his two home runs was a grand slam.

Chukars’ J.C. Cloney pitches in the third inning as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

“I’ve learned to humble myself,” Olloque said. “I know this game isn’t going to last forever, and I know there’s more to (life) than baseball. Just having a closer relationship with God lets me stuff in different perspective. Just try to be not too high, not too low, just even keel.”

“Manny is a good hitter,” said Ramirez after the Chukars’ opening day win. “Manny has always been a good hitter and he’s going to be a good help for the team.”

Even with Olloque gone, though, the Chukars still have a plethora of solid contact hitters. They’re batting .332 through eight games — the highest in the Pioneer League — as of June 23.

Kansas City Royals’ third-round pick Kyle Isbel has been sharp his first few games with the rookie-A affiliate. He’s batting .500. Offerman Collado, Julio Gonzalez, Nick Hutchins and Andres Martin should be steady hands at the plate this summer.

Collado and Gonzalez, in their second stints in Idaho Falls, are batting .368 and .364, respectively. Hutchins has batted .321 in a team-high 28 at-bats. He is tied for first in doubles (3) alongside Isbel and first baseman Reed Rohlman.

While only suiting up for three games thus far, Martin’s small sample size is promising. He’s gone 5 for 11 and knocked in two RBIs. He’s truck out once and walked once.

In terms of pitching, the Chukars’ have vastly improved from a year ago. A year ago, the Chukars were one of the worst — if not, the worst — pitching club in the Pioneer League. Now, they’re among the top.

Of course, minor league teams change rapidly and it’s early in the season, but the Chukars currently rank one of the better rotations and bullpens in the league.

The team’s ERA is 4.43 (second-best in the Pioneer) with their WHIP at 1.35 (tied for second best).

JC Cloney (2-0) is molding into a reliable ace, giving up just 10 hits and three earned runs in 13 innings pitched. He’s struck out 16 and has a WHIP of 0.77. Domingo Pena (1-0) looked sharp in his one appearance thus far. He holds a 1.80 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP.

Again, it’s early. But the Chukars have solid pieces to be excited about if you follow the Royals’ farming system.

“I think it will be a strong group of pitchers and I think that they’re going to be learning just like everybody else will be learning,” Chukars’ pitching coach Jeff Suppan said prior to the season starting.

Standings

Pioneer League North

Helena Brewers (MIL) 4-2

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 3-2

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 3-4

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 2-4

Pioneer League South

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 6-2

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 4-4

Ogden Raptors (LAD) 3-5

Orem Owlz (LAA) 3-5

Increasing stock

Kyle Isbel. Since joining the Chukars on June 18, Isbel has proved to be a reliable at-bat for Idaho Falls. In the past five games, the third-round pick has batted 10 for 20 (.500) with seven RBIs, three doubles and seven runs. He’s struck oout twice.

Decreasing stock

Jose Caraballo. Since June 15, Caraballo went 6 for 27 (.222) at the plate including a four-game stretch where the 21-year-old went 0 for 14. His slump could be ending shortly, though, as he’s registered back-t0-back two-hit games at Grand Junction.

Recent transactions (from June 18 to June 23)

– Right-handed pitcher Joe Ramirez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.

– Left-handed pitcher Marcelo Martinez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.

– Catcher Jesus Atencio assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.

– Catcher Nathan Easton assigned to Idaho Falls.

– Right-handed pitcher Dillon Drabble assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.

– Shortstop Kyle Krasser assigned to Idaho Falls.

– Right-handed pitcher Jon Heasley assigned to Idaho Fals.

– Right-handed pitcher Tyler Gray assigned to Idaho Falls

– Right-handed pitcher Jonathan Bowlan assistned to Idaho Falls Chukars.

– Centerfielder Isaiah Smith assigned to Idaho Falls from AZL Royals.

Upcoming

The Chukars play at Orem until Monday before hosting Grand Junction for a four-game homestand starting Tuesday. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.

Chukars down Raptors in season-opening pitching duel

Chukars’ Offerman Collado fileds a grounder to throw out Raptors’ Jair Camargo as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Gloomy weather hung over Melaleuca Field to start the Idaho Falls Chukars’ season opener. The night ended with fireworks and a win, though.

The Chukars defeated the Raptors 4-2 Friday to start the season 1-0 for the third consecutive season.

JC Cloney got the win on the mound, striking out 11 and surrendering two earned runs on four hits in seven innings pitched. After a shaky, 2-run first inning, Cloney quickly settled his command, working Friday’s strike zone with breaking balls before Robert Garcia closed the game out with a save.

At one point, Cloney retired 12-straight during the middle innings.

“That was good to see a well-pitched game in this league,” Chukars Omar Ramirez said. “That doesn’t happen very often. It’s a nice to see a game well pitched.”

Down 2-0 to start their freshly new campaign, the Chukars responded with two runs in the bottom of the third. Cleanup hitter Nick Hutchins hit in the first run of the 2018 Chukars’ season, popping an RBI single into the right field gaps to score Freddy Fermin.

After Reed Rohlman scored Manny Olloque later in the bottom of the third, Friday’s game quickly became a classic pitchers’ duel.

That was, of course, until Olloque hit in Fermin with a line drive to left field in the seventh.

Chukars’ Jose Caraballo and Jose Marquez round the bases as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

“I was just looking for a pitch to drive to score the run and I’m glad we won,” Olloque said. “That’s all that matters.”

Up 3-2, Jose Marquez added an insurance in the bottom of the eighth, eventually setting up Garcia to close the door on the 2017 Pioneer League champions.

He did — as the Chukars’ season began with patriotic fireworks and the cliched Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believing”.

“Everybody pitched good, hit good, good defense,” Olloque said. “Overall, good win.”

Player (s) of the Game

JC Cloney and Manny Olloque.

Cloney’s command was impressive Friday night. After surrendering two runs in the top of the first inning, Cloney settled in and attacked the zone. He struck 11 out in seven innings.

Olloque finished 2 for 4 at the plate, driving home a run in the bottom of the seventh. He had one run and one RBI.

Quotable

“I go day-by-day. Like I said, we played a good game, we played good defense, very good defense we played. I always say if we have two of these three things: pitching, defense and timely hitting, situational hitting. If you have two of those, you’re in good shape every time you take the field. … We had all three of them. It won’t happen every night, but it’s nice to see the first game of the season.” — Chukars manager Omar Ramirez

Notes

– The Chukars have won three-straight season openers. They’re last season-opening loss was June 18, 2015 (16-10 to Grand Junction).

– Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler performed a solo home run derby before Friday’s game. Butler, a 2012 Silver Slugger with the Kansas City Royals, played for the Chukars in 2004.

– Attendance was announced at 3,132, per the Chukars’ organization.

Upnext

The Chukars host the Ogden Raptors Saturday at Melaleuca Field for game two of a four-game home stand. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.

Ramirez returns to Idaho Falls for second stint

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez talks to players during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Idaho Falls Chukars’ field manager Omar Ramirez is back in the 208.

But now in his second stint with the burgundy and silver, the 47-year-old has evolved. Grown and matured — as a manager.

“More experienced. More experience as a manager,” Ramirez said of his transition back to Idaho Falls during the Wednesday’s media day at Melaleuca Field. “In 2012, it was my first time being a manager … Just knowing the game more. About movement and pitching change and all that. Players teach you so much, about everything.”

Ramirez returns to the Chukars after spending time with the Royals’ other rookie and low-A affiliates during the previous three summers. After a quick hiatus to manage in Burlington and Lexington, respectively, Ramirez returns with not only more knowledge, but an outgoing personality that fits with Chukars baseball.

“One of the great attributes of a guy like Omar, especially at the lower levels in the minor leagues where the Latin players haven’t acclimated, or haven’t learned English yet, perhaps, Omar has the ability to speak and communicate equally well with the American and English and Spanish speaking players,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “And I think that’s a great attribute for anyone to ever have, especially to be successful at this level.”

Being a player, or manager, in the ever-so-fluid minor league system can be difficult. It’s no secret.

There can be some long hours, pitching coach Jeff Suppan and hitting coach Damon Hollins said. You spend time away from family, friends. You’re in Idaho one week and then next thing you know: poof, you’re in Kentucky.

By late August, the two-month grind of the minor leagues can grind even the most hardened.

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez talks to players about fielding during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

“You’re always coaching, and it’s like as a player, once the games over, you shower and then you go home. a coach has more work to do,” Suppan said. “As a player, you come to the ball park and your work starts, but as a coach, you’re doing work well before the players are there. So, the best job in baseball is player, you know. Coaching has a lot of enjoyable things, but it’s a lot of work.”

And if someone knows this, it’s Ramirez — who got to the AAA level and played in the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros farming system at one point in his career. He’s no stranger to not settling in one place for too long: he’s bounced around from Cleveland to Mexico to independent leagues, he said.

But within that minor league grind, there’s a chance to make an impact on a pro-baller’s career. That’s what drew Ramirez back to Idaho Falls, and coaching, after retiring due to lingering injuries, spending time in Mexico and building a family.

He said he loves teaching.

“It’s my life. It’s what I enjoy doing,” Ramirez said. “I love it. They always ask me, ‘Do you want to become a big league manager?’ And if the opportunity is there, that’s fine, but I like the minor leagues. The players listen to you. In the big leagues, they don’t listen to you. I like this. I can tell, ‘Hey, you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing this wrong.’ In the big leagues, it’s different.

“I enjoy my job,” Ramirez added.

The Chukars play the Idaho Falls Bandits, an American Legion double-A team today at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m. Idaho Falls official season begins Friday at Melaleuca Field against Ogden.

Same time as always: 7:15 p.m.

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez works with players during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Chukars announce 2018 coaching staff

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @LukeORoark
A familiar face will be back with the Idaho Falls Chukars this summer.

The Chukars, an advanced rookie-level affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, announced Omar Ramirez will manage the team in 2018, returning to Idaho Falls after spending three season with Burlington and Lexington.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on June 14 at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field.(Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Ramirez takes over for now former Chukars manager Justin Gemoll, who will join Grand Canyon Baseball as a volunteer assistant coach for the Lopes’ 2018 season.

Ramirez previously managed the Chukars from 2012 to 2014 and was a part of the Chukars’ 2013 Pioneer League championship team.

“We welcome back Omar Ramirez, the manager who brought us our last championship in 2013,” Chukars’ President and general manager Kevin Greene said in a press release. “He along with a great supporting coaching staff of Jeff and Damon should make for a fun season of baseball in Idaho Falls.”

Joining Ramirez in 2018 will be pitching coach Jeff Suppan and hitting coach Damon Hollins, both who were a part of the Cuhkars’ 2017 staff. Suppan returns for his fourth year in Idaho Falls and brings 17 years of Major league experience.

For Hollins, he returns for his eighth season within the Kansas City Royals organization, the press release states. Hollins will also serve as an assistant outfield, base running and bunting coordinator.

Justin Kemp will also return to the Chukars as the team’s head athletic trainer in 2018. It will be his third season with the Chukars.

Idaho Falls’ opening day is set for June 15. The Chukars will host the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field, as first pitch is slated for 7:15 p.m.

Ogden claws I.F., 13-8, at Melaleuca Field

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @LukeORoark
You might want to check your car for dents if you were at Melaleuca Field Wednesday night.

The Raptors blasted two home runs and took advantage of three oppositional fielding errors, to beat the Chukars 13-8 at Melaleuca Field in front of 1,579 fans.

Ogden tallied 15 hits against Idaho Falls’ three pitchers, Dillon Drabble, Garrettson Harris and Andrew Beckwith, to hand the Chukars’ their fourth loss in five games.

(FILE) Chukars’ Cristhian Vasquez catches a pop fly during game one of three against the Voyagers at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls, Id., Friday, August 11, 2017. (Photo/ John Roark, jroark@postregister.com)

Idaho Falls has allowed 58 runs during that span.

With the win, Ogden keeps its playoff hopes alive at 36-22 (14-7 second half). Idaho Falls’ chances continue to dip, falling to 26-33 (9-12).

The Raptors are 5-3 when playing the Chukars this season.

Despite Ogden’s hot offense at Melaleuca Field, the Chukars did respond with runs of their own Wednesday, peaking when first baseman Robby Rinn slugged a two-run home run to revitalize the Chukars in the bottom of the eighth.

Rinn finished the night 2 for 3 at the plate.

But the Chukars — the worst pitching, and most undisciplined, team in the Pioneer League — fell in similar fashion. They simply couldn’t prevent the Raptors from circling the bases throughout Wednesday’s three-hour bout.

After Drabble surrendered two home runs during the first two frames, the Chukars got onto the board thanks to Cristhian Vasquez and Matt Morales RBIs.

Freddy Fermin and Darrell Miller Jr. then squeezed the Raptors’ four-run lead after Fermin hit in a run and Miller walked home, respectively, to cut Ogden’s lead to two.

But a sloppy fifth innings, which included a throwing error from Morales that allowed an extra base runner, helped the Raptors to score four runs.

The Raptors’ damage continued in the top of the ninth frame when the Raptors scored three runs off Harris. Harris finished the night with five hits, three earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched for a 9.00 ERA. He struck out three batters. Drabble (1-3) took the loss after allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits and two home runs.

Idaho Falls’ offense failed to respond as Fermin, Vasquez and Gonzalez all struck out in the top of the ninth.

To start the night, Ogden took an early 3-0 lead after a 424-foot, three-run homer by Mitchell Hansen flew over the right wall during the first inning. It was Hansen’s ninth home run of 2017.

Connor Heady continued the damage, hitting a three-run home run to extend Ogden’s lead to 6-0. It was also over the right wall.

What’s important:

Two early home runs set the tone, as the Chukars’ offense couldn’t carry their weak pitching and three fielding errors.

Player (s) of the game:

Robby Rinn. Rinn finished 2 for 3 at the plate with a two-run home run during the top of the eighth. He was also walked twice.

Notables:

– Attendance was announced as 1,578 Wednesday night.

Upnext:

Idaho Falls will return to Melaleuca Field for game two against Ogden. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars notebook: A melting pot of different cultural backgrounds, Latin players attempt to integrate with Chukars

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @LukeORoark
Chukars’ employee Andrew Scarlata said two Latino Chukars players, instead of driving, once pegged his bike to go to the local grocery store a couple miles down the road.

Another time, one player wanted to order Domino’s Pizza 30 minutes before a game’s first pitch.

Scarlata’s quick tales aren’t malicious — rather, examples of cultural barriers some players may face when being drafted from overseas into the MLB’s farming system.

Chukars’ Julio Gonzalez and Chukars’ Freddy Fermin have a meeting at the mound with pitcher Chukars’ Janser Lara, center, during game one of three against the Voyagers at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls, Id., Friday, August 11, 2017. (Photo/ John Roark, jroark@postregister.com)

“I’ve realized that these guys will probably need some sort of help or information or support when they come to the U.S., a completely different culture,” said Scarlata, who was in the Dominican Republic last summer and worked with a few Chukars players like Freddy Fermin. “Some guys handle it differently than others. A lot of times with the Latin players … having money is a total 180 for them. Language-wise, it’s all about commitment.”

The Chukars — a rookie-level affiliate of the Kansas City Royals — have seven Spanish-speaking players on their roster this season.

Scarlata, who was hired by Chukars’ general manager Kevin Greene because of his close relationship with the seven players, said they receive English classes in their hotel have gone on a fishing trips and even visited Tautphaus Park to help become acclimated to Idaho Falls — an overwhelmingly white, English speaking area of the United States.

The percentage of Hispanic or Latino population in Idaho Falls is 12.8 percent of the total general populous, according to city-data.com.

“The Royals do a really good job. They have classes for the Latin players, and we communicate a lot,” Jake Wakamatsu said. “I think it’s a good thing for all of us to get together and just learn about each other’s cultures and about each other.”

The Spanish-speaking players, like Fermin and Cristhian Vasquez, have used the developmental league to not only hone their craft, but to understand American culture, societal norms and the English language.

Fermin, in a translated interview with Scarlata, said it can be an adjustment for them, though.

“It is hard,” Fermin said. “It is difficult with the language barrier, but I’m learning new words every day by talking with the coaches and learning inside the clubhouse every day.”

According to the Society for American Baseball Research, a study by Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt found that 27.4 percent of MLB players identified as Latino.

The MLB and MiLB has slowly, but surely, become more inclusive over the years to accommodate other players’ backgrounds.

For an example, the MLB mandated that all teams provide interpreters for players with limited or no English proficiency in 2016, according to NPR.

“I know if I were playing or managing in Latin America today and had to speak Spanish, I would want a translator, just because the nuances of everything you say can be misunderstood or taken out of context,” Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia told USA Today in 2016.

Chukars’ Cristhian Vasquez runs to third base during game one of three against the Voyagers at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls, Id., Friday, August 11, 2017. (Photo/ John Roark, jroark@postregister.com)

Chukars’ pitching coach Jeff Suppan and designated hitter Darrell Miller, Jr. said they recognized the language (and cultural) barrier that happens since the Chukars are a melting pot of players from the likes of Georgia, California, Venezuela, Arizona and the Dominican Republic.

“Every year, almost half the team is Latin,” right fielder Amalani Fukofuka said during the preseason. “So, it’s good to try and get to know them a little more and learn a little Spanish to communicate. You can mess with them sometimes, and they’re usually cool to talk to.”

Suppan pitched 17 years in the majors, communicating with players of multiple Latin backgrounds. He said the cultural and language barrier “is just baseball.”

“Hopefully, you just mesh as a team,” Suppan said. “So, I might come in with a California accent, somebody else comes in with a Georgia accent, a Philly accent, somebody is a Spanish speaker and you kinda blend and have your own language together.”

Suppan added that “team language” is a universal component to sports.

Miller, who occasionally has to communicate with Spanish-speaking pitchers during games, agreed.

“I know it can be a challenge in clubhouses, but being a member of the Royals, and knowing what they’re about, we mesh really well — whether or not we can understand each other sometimes,” Miller said. “Baseball has a universal language, and I do know a little bit of Spanish, and these guys work their tails off … It might be broken in our communication but again, you know what they’re trying to say. They know what you’re trying to say.”

The term “universal language” as Miller and Suppan described comes with just playing the sport.

No matter if a player is from South America or North Dakota, the objective is still to score as many runs as possible before three outs.

Chukars’ Julio Gonzalez runs to first base during game one of three against the Voyagers at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls, Id., Friday, August 11, 2017. (Photo/ John Roark, jroark@postregister.com)

Win or lose, Scarlata said he takes responsibility for the Latin players in Idaho Falls, though. He has tried to be empathetic to people of different backgrounds attempting to merge into the United States.

“They’re really like kids, when you think about it,” Scarlata said. “You go into a place, you don’t know the language very well, and you’re here to play baseball and all you know is that there’s a town around you. They’ve really impressed me coming here.”