By Luke O’Roark | Loroark@postregister.com | @Lukeoroark
Editors note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.
Jake Anderson and Troy Prigmore, interns for the Chukars, unfold the United States flag behind Melaleuca Field’s center wall. It’s mid-Friday, and the last day of Idaho Falls’ four-game home stand against Ogden.
Wrestling with the flag, attempting to hoist it correctly on the pole, Anderson’s white shirt reads: “Eat. Sleep. Baseball.”
If you work for the Chukars — a minor league affiliate for the Kansas City Royals — the words on Anderson’s shirt probably ring true.
Working at the minor league ballpark is as continuous as it is rigorous.
“Common day for us on gameday is 9 (a.m.) to 11 (p.m.),” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “And when you do seven games in a row, it’s long hours, but it’s only 38 games.”
Anderson and Prigmore are two of six interns, and two of about 50 game-day staffers, that keep Melaleuca Field alive during the Chukars’ 38 home games this summer.
They handle a variety of tasks. This past Friday they soothed a flustered customer, upset over the team’s recent jersey giveaway, and talked to promoters during waves of phone calls.
“Gameday staff”, a collective unit hired by Greene to work part-time, have their own roles.
Rikki Gant ushers, trying to keep stadium-goers positive, with a towel in hand and a smile. Jayda Andrews works concessions (on a night which saw fans galvanize over half-off burgers, causing strenuous lines). Sammee Madero serves beer and drinks for the third base-side suites. All do it despite the relatively low pay and long hours.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we have to do that might not be the funnest thing,” said Andrews, stacking napkins at one of the ballpark’s food stands. “But there’s also a lot of things that are really fun and, yeah, I love this job.”
From around noon to 4 p.m., the Chukars’ office, a cozy room littered with bobble heads, paper and a colossal white board with promotion ideas, is casual and jovial.
“It’s like musical chairs in here,” says Logan Ratick, as he paces in-and-out of the office. The tan office phone alarms interns reading ESPN headlines and catching up on national sports. A candle burns at one of the desks.
“Yeah, we’ll get that, don’t worry,” Prigmore says regarding the candle.
By 4:30 p.m. the pace inside the office quickens noticeably.
Greene, barefoot, coordinates his paid interns — who to call, what resources are needed for the nightly promotions. Assistant general manager Josh Michalsen answers a call, the phone in his left ear and an ear bud listening to a conference call in the other.
The staff is meticulously preparing to have every detail of Friday night perfect.
“Hey Jake,” Ratick says to Anderson.
“Hey Logan,” Anderson responds.
“You look a little pooped,” says Ratick, printing game notes and lineups for both teams.
The game day staff begins to roll into the corner office around 5 p.m.
By 6 p.m., Melaleuca Field is in full throttle. The aura of beef patties swallows the main entrance.
Javier Hernandez walks into the Chukars’ press box.
“What’s up, bro?” he says lively to his co-workers.
The Chukars’ public address announcer uses the side gig in order to help his kids attend Watersprings Christian School.
“Can you keep a secret?” Hernandez says. “Don’t tell Kevin Greene, but I would probably do this for nothin’. This is something awesome.”
No one at Melaleuca Field will be finished with their specific task until about 11 p.m. — long after fans have left and kids have ran the bases.
Long after the Chukars head to the clubhouse, beating the Raptors 7-4, there’s still some trash to be picked up in the stands and the infield needs to be maintained.
“It’s rewarding and humbling,” intern Todd Zollinger said. “Casual fans may not always see everything we do. I certainly didn’t until I worked here.”
For road games, the interns work a more traditional 9-to-5 in the office. There’s always “something to take care of,” per Zollinger.
But even when on the road, Ratick, Idaho Falls’ color commentator alongside John Balginy, doesn’t stop.
“Eat. Sleep. Baseball.” is a lifestyle.
The recent Syracuse grad said he wakes up around 8:45 a.m. to read local news.
After a quick workout, he then heads to the park to handle the Chukars game notes and update the Chukars’ stats. Ratick is the team’s middleman: handling information between the managers, local media outlets and the public.
He spends most of Friday adding details to his game notes, interviewing Chukars’ hitting coach Damon Hollins and updating the team’s ever-changing lineups.
Per Ratick, his day laxes only when the Chukars’ broadcast begins.
“To see these guys come in with their eyes wide open, and like the players, they’re looking for a shot at the bigs,” said Balginy, who calls MiLB offices in New York after every half inning to give a quick rundown of the game.
Like the rest of the staff, Ratick doesn’t get finished until way past Idaho Falls’ final frame. He still has to write his game recap from home, even after he and Balginy sign off.
And on this Friday, he doesn’t leave the press box until about 11 p.m, close to 11 hours after he first walked into the ballpark.
The next day, it’s back on the grind. Ratick said he has to wake up around 7 a.m. to do some laundry and catch Idaho Falls’ bus ride to Orem at 8 a.m.
Eat. Sleep. Baseball.
“I’d rather be doing this than working any other type of job,” Ratick said.
Chukars transactions (as of July 8)
The Chukars assigned Robert Garcia, a left-handed pitcher from the AZL Royals on June 6.
Idaho Falls assigned Damon Olds from the Arizona League. Olds is a 22-year-old, right-handed pitcher from Indiana State.
The Chukars assigned their first left-handed pitcher of the month by acquiring Jordan Floyd from Burlington and the Arizona Royals on June 30. Floyd was drafted by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He was reassigned to Burlington on July 3.
Cody Nesbit was assigned to Lexington Legends on July 3. He pitched three games (2-0) for Idaho Falls and had an ERA of 4.66.
Around the Pioneer League (as of July 8)
The Chukars are third in the Pioneer League South Division at 9-11, ahead of Grand Junction (7-13) and behind Ogden (10-10). Orem (14-6) is in first.
Billings (12-8) leads the North Division. Missoula and Helena are tied for secod at 10-10 and Great Falls (8-12) is fourth.
Chukars’ first baseman Robby Rinn leads is second in the Pioneer League with 21 RBIs.
Great Falls’ Chris Comito (1-1) leads the Pioneer League with a 2.31 ERA.
Orem is the Pioneer League’s best offensive team: 187 runs (1st), 250 hits (1st), .333 team batting average (1st). Ogden has the most home runs of any team with 31.
Great Falls leads the league in ERA with 4.12. Idaho Falls is in last (7.50).