Chukars Notebook: Behind the mic for the Chukars

Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange /
Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange /

Javier Hernandez is known for his energy, but he’s prone to falling asleep at work.

Two weeks ago, Hernandez was at Melaleuca Field for his part-time job as the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer. During the game, Hernandez didn’t announce the name of an opposing player who came up to bat.

Hernandez also failed to announce the next batter. The Chukars intern sitting next to Hernandez looked over. Hernandez’s eyes were closed. The intern tapped Hernandez, who awoke in confusion.

“It was one of those long days,” Hernandez said.

That was the only time Hernandez, 34, fell asleep while announcing a Chukars game. With the hours he works, it’s amazing Hernandez, in his second year as the PA announcer, hasn’t fallen asleep on the job more often.

“By the end of a homestand, I’m ready for it to be over,” Hernandez said. “But the flipside is, ‘Man, this is baseball. This is awesome.’ It’s short season, so enjoy it while you can.”

Earlier this summer, Hernandez was promoted to assistant store manager at Lowe’s in Idaho Falls. But with it came demanding hours.

During various weekdays, Hernandez has to be at Lowe’s by 5 a.m. He gets off around 3 or 4 p.m., which gives him about an hour to go home and say hi to his wife, Nicole. Then he heads to Melaleuca Field to start his shift as the PA announcer. If it’s a quick game, he might be home before 10 p.m.

Hernandez, who gets paid per game, works two jobs so he can afford his children’s education. Gavin, 8, and Ava, 3, Hernandez attend Watersprings Christian.

“(Nicole) supports me in knowing that this is going toward a good cause,” Hernandez said. “It’s taking care of my family’s needs.”

Hernandez admits the hours are draining, but he loves announcing baseball game. It helps that he’s good at it.

“He brings a really polished presence up there,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “He does as well as any announcers we’ve had.”

Jordan Beckstead has been the Chukars’ scoreboard operator for more than two decades, so he’s seen his share of PA announcers. Some have been good, some haven’t. Beckstead recalled one announcer throwing a chair in anger during one game.

“Other guys used to get really angry when they’d mess up because they were perfectionists,” Beckstead said. “(Hernandez) doesn’t do that, and that’s what I like.”

Hernandez and Beckstead’s relationship started outside the press box. They were a year apart at Bonneville High School.

“He was always really personable back then, too,” Beckstead said. “Really popular guy, friend to everyone, just like he is now.”

It doesn’t matter if Hernandez messes up a name or has a rough day at Lowe’s. He’s always friendly, his voice always booming.

Even when he dozes at the mic.

“This is a stress reliever,” Hernandez said. “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”


The Chukars are still battling Ogden for the second-half crown in the Pioneer League South Division. But if they clinch, here’s how the playoffs would look.

Since Orem won the first half South title, it gets homefield advantage in the best-of-three playoff series. That means I.F. would host the first game of the series Wednesday, and Orem would host the second game Thursday and, if necessary, the third game Friday.

Whoever wins that series faces the winner of the North series in the championship. The North gets homefield advantage during odd years, so the 2015 Pioneer League champion will have to win the title in Montana.


Here is a timeline of the week in the Chukars’ roster moves:

Sunday, Aug. 30 — Chukars add infielder Gabriel Noriega (rehab) from Triple-A Omaha and right-handed pitchers Jacob Bonder and Matt Ditman from Rookie-league Burlington.

Monday — Chukars add righty Julio Pinto and catcher Xavier Hernandez from Burlington.

Wednesday — Chukars add outfielder Rudy Martin from the Arizona League and infielders Jose Martinez and Brandon Dulin from Burlington.

Thursday — Chukars add infielder Carlos Diaz and lefty Nicholas Andros from the Arizona League. Noriega ends his rehab stint and returns to Omaha.

Since this is the final Chukars Notebook of 2015, the weekly “Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?” feature will award the hottest and coldest Chukars of the season.


OF Amalani Fukofuka

This was an agonizing choice between Fukofuka and first baseman Josh Banuelos. The deciding factors were Fukofuka’s speed and defense.

Through Friday, the 19-year-old outfielder was second on the team behind Banuelos with a .340 batting average (among players with at least 100 plate appearances). But Fukofuka had a team-best .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, thanks to his 18 doubles (second behind Banuelos), nine triples (second behind Marten Gasparini), two home runs and 24 walks. Through Friday, Fukofuka had 299 plate appearances, tied for first on the Chukars with Banuelos.

Fukofuka is also sixth on the team with 10 stolen bases. He’s made several highlight catches in the outfield and has committed only six errors in 64 games.

Fukofuka and Banuelos were the lone representatives on the Pioneer League’s postseason all-star team, as well.


3B Ryan Dale

Left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 24 walks) narrowly avoided this dubious honor thanks to a strong second half. Dale has played poorly in the second half, although his struggles aren’t exclusive to the last 35 games.

Through Friday, Dale was batting .208 with a .628 OPS. Other than recent addition Rudy Martin, who had four plate appearances through Friday, Dale has been the Chukars’ worst batter this season. He’s also committed 10 errors.

Not everything has been negative for Dale. The Australian hit a game-winning home run at Helena on Aug. 7, and he’s shown good patience at the plate (.328 on-base percentage).

Chukars on verge of playoff berth after 9-4 win over Ogden


The Idaho Falls Chukars haven’t played perfect baseball in their amazing second-half turnaround. They’ve just overcome their mistakes much better than they did in the first half.

Saturday’s game was a perfect example.

The Chukars got off a rough start, falling behind 2-0 in the top of the second inning. But dominant relief pitching,

execution and plenty of offense more than made up for it in a 9-4 victory over the Orem Owlz in front of 2,142 fans at a chilly Melaleuca Field. The victory reduced Idaho Falls’ magic number to clinch the Pioneer League South Division second-half title to one. Any Chukars’ win or Ogden Raptors’ loss over the next three days will send Idaho Falls to the playoffs.

“This is why you play baseball,” Idaho Falls reliever Matt Ditman told Chukars’ fans in his on-field post-game interview with Chukars’ radio announce Alex Cohen. “You play to win championships.”

A championship appeared to be a long shot after a dismal first half that saw the Chukars go a league-worst 13-25 to finish 11 games behind the first-half champion Owlz. The Chukars have gone a league-best 24-11 since, building a two-game lead over Ogden and a nine-game lead over Orem with three games to play (all vs. Orem, one at home, two on the road).

And they’ve done it with wins like Saturday’s when they didn’t always play their best baseball.

Idaho Falls starter Carter Hope was shaky over the first four innings, allowing a two-run homer to catcher Tanner Lubach in the second and giving up two more runs on an RBI double by Sam Koenig and a wild-pitch strikeout. But Hope left with 5-4 lead thanks to a relentless offense.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second, sparked by a leadoff double by cleanup hitter Josh Banuelos. Newcomer Brandon Dulin followed with a single and Banuelos later scored when second baseman Franklin Torres booted a perfect double-play ball off the bat of Nick Dini.

Roman Collins made the Owlz pay for the mistake with an opposite-field double to left that scored Dulin. Logan Nottebrok and Jose Martinez followed with productive outs that each scored a run. After the Owlz tied things in the third, Banuelos started another rally with a leadoff triple to center. He scored on Dulin’s RBI groundout.

Josh Staumont replaced Hope to start the fifth, and he began a stretch of five dominant innings from the bullpen. Staumont pitched 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings, allowing two walks while striking out four. The performance dropped his ERA to 3.16 in 31.1 innings.

Ditman was even better in his Chukars debut, getting the final seven outs, three of them on strikeouts, without allowing a hit or a walk.

“They were outstanding,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “They came in and attacked the zone and threw strikes, and that’s what you want.”

Dulin, playing just his third game with Idaho Falls after starting the season with Burlington, gave the Chukars some breathing room in the sixth belted a two-out, two run double to the wall in left.

Idaho Falls second baseman D.J. Burt then capped off the offensive showing by executing a perfect bunt to second to extend his on-base streak to 52 games. Burt and Cody Jones then came around on a single by Banuelos, who increased his league-leading RBI total to 60.

The Chukars (37-36 overall) can clinch a playoff spot in their final regular season home game today against Orem (39-34, 15-20) at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Orem smokes Chukars 11-4

The playoff race remains intense for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Orem Owlz, who won the Pioneer League South Division first half, scored seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings to hand the Chukars an 11-4 loss Friday in Orem, Utah. The Chukars’ loss combined with Ogden’s 10-4 win over Grand Junction on Friday cut I.F.’s South Division second-half lead to one game.

The Owlz (39-33, 15-19 second half) and Chukars (36-36, 23-11) were locked at 1-1 through three innings before Orem piled on three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Kenny Towns drove in Alex Abbott with a one-out double, Jared Foster beat the throw to score in the next at-bat and Towns scored on a Juan Moreno single.

Logan Nottebrok jacked a solo homer in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to 4-2, but the Owlz answered in the next two innings. An RBI single by Kenny Towns, an RBI double by Eason Spivey, a hit by pitch, two stolen base, and an error led to two Orem runs in the bottom of the sixth.

The Owlz did as much damage in the next frame with a single, a stolen base and back-to-back walks to set up Towns’s RBI single to start the bottom of the seventh. Alex Abbott scored on a bases-loaded walk in the next at-bat and Ian Tompkins relieved Nicholas Andros on the mound. Three batters later with two outs, Eason Spivey scored off a Tompkins wild pitch to make it 9-2 Orem.

Rudy Martin came home off a one-out triple from Roman Collins and Joshua Banuelos drove in Collins with a one-out double two batters later to make it 11-4, but that was as close as the Chukars would get as they went down in order in the top of the ninth.

Baneulos and Nottebrok each went 2 for 4 to lead the Chukars at the plate. Todd Eaton took the loss, giving up four runs (all earned) on four hits while walking three and striking out four in 3.2 innings pitched.

The Chukars face Orem at 7:15 p.m. tonight for the first game of a two-game homestand.

Chukars build division lead to two games with 8-5 win

The Idaho Falls Chukars got one step closer to a playoff berth Thursday night.

The Chukars cruised past the Owlz 8-5 at Orem, Utah, giving them their first winning record of the season. I.F. now has a two-game lead in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half, thanks to Ogden’s 16-8 loss to Grand Junction. Five games remain.

I.F. fell behind 1-0 after the first inning, but it took control in the top of the second on a two-out, two-run home run from left fielder Roman Collins.

The Chukars never trailed again. In the top of the fourth, second baseman D.J. Burt cleared the bases with a two-out triple, extending the lead to 5-1. Burt’s extended his on-base streak to 51 games with the hit.

The lead grew to 8-1 the next inning on an RBI double from catcher Nick Dini, an RBI groundout from Collins and an RBI single from Carlos Diaz.

The third baseman Diaz was one of I.F.’s two additions before the game. He and left-handed pitcher Nicholas Andros were promoted from the Arizona League Royals. Shortstop Gabriel Noriega ended his rehab assignment with the Chukars on Thursday, as well, and was promoted to Triple-A Omaha.

Bryan Brickhouse pitched three solid innings for the Chukars, giving up one run (earned) on one hit, one walk and three strikeouts.

Dini and designated hitter Brandon Dulin each went 3 for 5. Collins and first baseman Josh Banuelos each went 2 for 5.

Ogden’s elimination number shrunk to four with the loss and I.F.’s win. That means the Chukars can clinch the second half division title with two wins and two Raptor losses.

The Chukars also own the first playoff tiebreaker due to their 9-7 record against Ogden this season, so their divisional lead is really three games.

I.F. (36-35, 23-10 second half) wraps up its two-game series with Orem (38-33, 14-19) tonight at 7:15.

Banuelos’ walkoff double lifts Chukars into first place alone


Josh Banuelos let a couple fastballs go by without a swing early in Wednesday’s Pioneer League South Division first-place showdown with Ogden.


He wasn’t about to let another one pass him by.

The Idaho Falls first baseman and Pioneer League RBI leader drove a 1-1 pitch just over the head of Ogden center fielder Gage Green, scoring Roman Collins from first base for his third walkoff hit of the season to send the Chukars to a 5-4 win in front of 2,299 fans at Melaleuca Field.

The victory gave Idaho Falls a two-game sweep of Ogden and a one-game lead over the Raptors in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings with six games left. The Chukars also own the tie-breaker after winning the season series against Ogden 9-7.

“We’re locked in so much,” said Banuelos, who pushed his RBI total to 57. “When we were down in Grand Junction last week, someone said, ‘you guys are having so much fun, no wonder you’re winning.’ We just want to keep it going.”

As has been the case throughout the second half, there were plenty of reasons to smile.

Second baseman DJ Burt, who extended his on-base streak to 50 games in the second inning, started the ninth-inning rally by working his way back from an 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk.

“DJ had a great at-bat,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “He laid off a couple tough pitches and found a way to get on base. He’s been doing that all year.”

Roman Collins tried to move Burt up a base but his bunt fell too close to the catcher and Burt was thrown out at second. That brought up Banuelos, who had a plan for his at-bat against reliever Marcus Crescentini. He had seen Crescentini earlier this year, and remembered that he struggled with his curve-ball control.

“I was looking for a fastball to hit,” Banuelos said.

He got one on the second pitch but swung through it. He didn’t miss the third pitch, hitting it hard to center. The only question was whether Green would track it down. He didn’t, Collins made a good read on the play and scored without a throw.

“I was just hoping he would make it,” Banuelos said. “I’m tired. I’ve played about 18 games in a row and I didn’t want to play any more tonight.”

The Chukars might not have had a chance to win it if not for starter Derek Gordon and a host of newcomers to the roster.

Gordon has been Idaho Falls’ most consistent starter all season, and he was again Wednesday. The 6-foot-6 right-hander allowed the first two batters of the game to reach base and eventually score, but he minimized the damage and left with two outs in the top of the sixth and the Chukars leading 4-2.

“He’s on top of his game,” Gemoll said. “He’s been making pitches all year.”

Brian Bayliss allowed the tying runs in the seventh, but Pioneer League All-Star Tripp Davis got the final eight outs to preserve the win.

“He came in and did his job,” Gemoll said.

And with several regulars out with injury, Amalani Fukofuka away for personal reasons and Marten Gasparini playing for the Italian national team, the Chukars got a lift from several recent additions.

Shortstop Gabriel Noriega, in Idaho Falls on a rehab stint from Triple-A Omaha, went 2 for 4 and belted an RBI double in the four-run second.

Designated hitter Brandon Dulin, catcher Xavier Fernandez and third baseman Jose Martinez, all call-ups from Burlington (N.C.), went a combined 3 for 10 with two walks, a double (from Fernandez in the second) and two runs scored.

“Those guys are all key players for us,” Banuelos said.

Now the Chukars hope to carry the good vibes to the final six games, all against South Division first-half winner Orem. The Chukars (35-35, 22-10 second half) and Owlz (38-32, 14-18) play tonight and Friday in Orem, Saturday and Sunday in Idaho Falls and Monday and Tuesday back in Utah. If the Chukars could go 4-2, Ogden would have to win all six games against last-place Grand Junction to grab the second-half title.

Chukars tie Ogden for division lead with 10-5 win


Tuesday’s game wasn’t a must-win for the Idaho Fall Chukars, but it was close.

Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen's Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /
Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen’s Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /

I.F. went in trailing the Ogden Raptors by one game in the Pioneer League South Division, and the Chukars hosted the Raptors for a two-game series starting Tuesday.

The Chukars are now tied for the second-half division lead after handling the Raptors 10-5 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. manager Justin Gemoll said his team has a one-game-at-a-time mindset, but the Chukars know the stakes. Seven games remain in the regular season.

“I’ve never been in a playoff before,” said Chukars catcher Xavier Fernandez, who transferred from the Burlington Royals on Monday. “I feel so excited, and I can’t even explain it.”

The Chukars scored first with a three-run bottom of the first inning. Two runs scored on an error, and Fernandez (3 for 5) hit an RBI single after a long at-bat.

Ogden scored once in the top of the second, but I.F. built on the lead in the bottom half. Center fielder Cody Jones kicked the scoring off with an RBI triple.

Next up was D.J. Burt, who hit a towering fly ball to left field. Left fielder Alex Santana froze as the ball went airborne, appearing to be camped under it. But Santana didn’t know where the ball was, and neither did most of Melaleuca Field. Even Burt thought it was an out.

Santana’s confusion didn’t matter. Burt’s fly ball landed over the wall, 410 feet away.

After 273 plate appearances, Burt had his first home run of the season.

“Finally,” said Burt, who hit two blasts in 163 plate appearances for Burlington last season. “It feels good.”

Gemoll, the third base coach, gave Burt a high five but didn’t exchange words with the 19-year-old as he rounded third.

“He was too busy smiling,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second inning, taking a 7-1 lead.

Idaho Falls' pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen's Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /
Idaho Falls’ pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen’s Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /

I.F. extended the lead to 8-1 on a Brawlun Gomez home run (420 feet), but Ogden cut it to 8-5 with a four-run fourth. The Chukars added some insurance with a two-run sixth.

Julio Pinto made his first start for the Chukars and struggled, despite a mid-to-high-90s fastball. Pinto, previously with Burlington, gave up three runs (all earned) on five hits, a walk, five strikeouts and two wild pitches in 3.1 innings.

Fellow Chukars flamethrower Josh Staumont pitched three scoreless, hitless innings out of the bullpen, giving up two walks with four strikeouts.

Burt went 2 for 4 with two walks and has now reached base 49 games in a row. Newcomer Gabriel Noriega (shortstop) went 3 for 4, Jones went 2 for 5 with a walk and left fielder Roman Collins went 1 for 4 with two walks.

Tonight’s series finale is enormous for the Chukars (34-35). If they win, they’ll not only take a one-game division lead, they’ll improve their season record against Ogden (40-29) to 9-7. The first playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head record.

Derek Gordon is scheduled to start for I.F. in tonight’s game, which starts at 7:15.

Roster notes

Several key I.F. position players were missing from Tuesday’s game. Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka was on the bench getting rest, and Gemoll wasn’t sure if he’d play tonight either. Shortstop Jeckson Flores (hamstring) and catcher Kyle Pollock (hand) are both day-to-day. Gemoll also said catcher Pedro Gonzalez, currently on the disabled list, will not return.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini could return as early as this weekend, Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said. Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup

Umpires frustrate Chukars in 9-8 loss to Grand Junction

Umpire calls carry extra weight right now for the Idaho Falls Chukars, who are battling the Ogden Raptors for the Pioneer League South Division title.

So the frustration ramps up when the umpires, from the Chukars’ perspective, make mistakes.

That frustration was evident Monday night against the Grand Junction Rockies, who benefited from several calls that drew ire from I.F.’s players, coaches and fans. It didn’t help that the Chukars lost the game 9-8 and fell one game behind Ogden in the South Division second-half standings. There are eight games left in the regular season.


“We had a couple of bad calls we should’ve gotten,” Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt said. “But that’s baseball.”

The Rockies scored twice off Carter Hope in the top of the first inning, but the Chukars took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first. Both teams went on to score every half inning until the bottom of the fifth, when the game was tied 7-7.

The Rockies took the lead back in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run single by catcher Chris Rabago off left-hander Ian Thompkins.

The Chukars loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs but failed to score. In the ninth, they loaded the bases with no outs and scored a run, but they needed at least one more.

Most of the Chukars’ frustration with umpires Isias Barba (home plate) and Luis Hernandez (field) stemmed from balls and strikes.

In the sixth, Barba called Burt out on a high strike. Burt voiced his displeasure with Barba’s call as he walked back to the dugout.

Melaleuca Field got heated in the bottom of the ninth, too, when Hernandez ruled that third baseman Logan Nottebrok went around while trying to check his swing. Fans were incensed, and the umpires told several Chukars in the dugout to settle down. Nottebrok struck out looking on the next pitch, and that call wasn’t popular, either.

“They’re young, too,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said of the umpires. “Hopefully they learn from it. Things happened to both sides; it wasn’t like it was only our team. It’s just part of the game.”

Burt made noise in another way when he hit a triple in the first inning. That hit extended his on-base streak to 48 games, which is a 2015 high for affiliated baseball, according to the Chukars. Burt (1 for 3, two walks) passed Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It feels good,” Burt said. “At the plate, I didn’t want to think about it too much. I just wanted to stick to my game plan, be patient and be a spark to this team.”

First baseman Josh Banuelos went 2 for 4 with a walk, left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 5 and center fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 1 for 3 with two walks.

The Chukars (33-35, 20-10 second half) host the Raptors (40-28, 21-9) for a two-game series starting at 7:15 tonight. The teams have a 7-7 record against each other this season. If they have equal second-half records at the end of the season, head-to-head record would be the first playoff tiebreaker, so both teams crave a sweep in their final series.

Valenzuela traded for Gomes

The Kansas City Royals bolstered their lineup Monday night by acquiring outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Atlanta Braves, first reported by Fox Sports. In return for Gomes, the Braves received shortstop Luis Valenzuela, who started the season with the Chukars.

Valenzuela, 21, hit .486/.472/.600 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 37 plate appearances for I.F. this season. On July 2, he was promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he hit .339/.368/.483 in 184 plate appearances.

Valenzuela will be assigned to the Single-A Rome Braves, Atlanta announced.

Sunday’s game

Behind a record sixth inning, the Chukars pounded the Rockies 16-7 on Sunday at Meleleuca Field.

The Chukars trailed 6-3 going into the sixth. After the inning, they led 12-6. The nine runs are the most I.F. has scored in an inning this season.

Designated hitter Amalani Fukofuka had one of his best games of the season, going 5 for 6 and finishing a home run shy of the cycle. The five hits are the most by a Chukars’ batter in a single game this season.

Catcher Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, while Banuelos (2 for 4, double, two walks), right fielder Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4, double, walk), center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 6) and shortstop Gabriel Noriega (2 for 5) each had two hits.

Noriega is on a rehab assignment. He transferred from Triple-A Omaha to I.F. before Sunday’s game.

Chukars Notebook: Second half resurgance


History is brewing at Melaleuca Field.

Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /
Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange /

The Idaho Falls Chukars enter today’s game against Grand Junction with a 19-9 second half record, tops in the Pioneer League. That record is even more impressive when compared to the Chukars’ first half, when they finished dead last at 13-25.

I.F. is currently tied with Ogden in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half. Even if the Chukars miss the playoffs, they might finish with the winningest half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

The Chukars joined the Royals’ organization in 2004. Since then, their best half was in 2009, when they went 23-14 to end the season. The Chukars would need to go at least 5-5 to surpass the 2009 mark.

It should be noted that the halfway point of a season is an arbitrary endpoint. In other words, the dividing line between the first 38 games and the last 38 games is essentially meaningless.

The beginning of a season is the most significant starting point for a baseball team, and I.F. has gone 32-34 since then. You can create any narrative you want by closing your eyes and randomly placing your finger on a calendar.

The Pioneer League, of course, doesn’t work like the MLB, which rewards season-long records. Teams only need one good half to be in the Pioneer League playoff hunt, as the Chukars have shown. But that doesn’t mean the Chukars went into a telephone booth on July 28 and came out a superteam.

That all said, several I.F. players and coaches said they hit a mental reset button after the first half ended. They knew July 28 marked a new season, and that mental rewiring counts for something.

Plus, several players have gone from bad to elite, and their improvement started almost squarely on July 28. Second baseman D.J. Burt and shortstop Marten Gasparini are at the top of that list.

After July 28, Burt was hitting .198/.324/.215 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Through Friday, he was hitting .282/.389/.364, and his defense looks improved.

Gasparini’s slash line dropped to .205/.275/.346 through July 27. Now, it’s .262/.339/.419, although Gasparini might be done for the season because he is representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“A lot of the position players, especially, are very young, so whenever you go up a level, not everybody’s going to have immediate success,” Chukars reliever Tripp Davis told Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen on Aug. 11. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The pitching is clicking, as well. I.F.’s first half team ERA was 5.33. It’s down to 4.93 on the season, thanks to pitchers like Davis (2.84 second-half ERA) Derek Gordon (3.12) and Josh Staumont (3.48, 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

I.F. has also been good/lucky in close games during the second game. The Chukars have won five extra-inning games (7-1 on the season), eight by one run and are 13-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

The Chukars will enjoy this success even if they miss the playoffs and fizzle over these last 10 games. Their players have developed in the second half, and that is ultimately all that matters in rookie ball.


J.J. Picollo — the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel — has watched the Chukars since Thursday in Ogden, and he’ll be in Idaho Falls through today. He makes trips to see Kansas City’s three Rookie-level teams once a year.

Picollo said he’s here for two main reasons.

“One, getting to learn our new players, guys who were drafted this year. I saw a lot of them in mini-camp but didn’t see them in games,” said Picollo, who has held his current position since 2008. “The second thing is to look at the guys we’ve had in the system, see how they’re progressing, see where they’re at.”


Chukars general manager Kevin Greene has been employing college interns since he became GM in 1993, and he believes the opportunties benefit him and the interns.

But every summer, he deals with the same issue: interns going back to school.

This summer, the Chukars had six administrative interns (some receive college credit, but all of them receive stipends, Greene said). Four have begun classes — Jake Guza (College of Idaho), Matthew Donovan, Aaron Palmberg (both BYU) and Desiree Cannon (Lewis and Clark). I.F. also lost several college-age concessions workers.

Greene and the Melaleuca Field staff aren’t too worried about being understaffed, though. After all, they’ve survived the intern migration for 22 years.


Last Sunday, right-handed pitcher Bryan Brickhouse made a three-inning rehab start for the Chukars against Grand Junction (he allowed two earned runs). The next day, Brickhouse was added to I.F.’s active roster.

This is Brickhouse’s third stint with the Chukars. He made one start for I.F. in 2012 and nine appearances (eight starts) in 2014.


2B D.J. Burt

Burt’s hot second half gets two mentions in this space. Since July 28, Burt his hitting .398 with nine extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 15 walks. He’s also reached base (via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in 46 straight games.


OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez leads the Chukars with nine home runs, but he’s been in a major slump. In his last 11 games, Gomez is hitting 5 for 41 (.122) with two walks and 22 strikeouts. He has 79 strikeouts on the season, tied for first in the Pioneer League with Gasparini.

Chukars tied for Pioneer League South Division lead after 7-6 loss to Grand Junction


Ten games remain, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first in the Pioneer League South Division.

The Chukars fell 7-6 to Grand Junction Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. Shortly after the game ended, with lightning streaking across the sky and a fireworks show set to start, the Ogden Raptors beat Orem in 12 innings. Both I.F. and Ogden are 19-9 in the second half.

“All these games are important,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “We just have to take care of our business.”


The Chukars scored two runs on two-out single from designated hitter Roman Collins in the bottom of the first, but Grand Junction tied it up in the top of the third. The 2-2 score lasted until the fifth, when the Rockies got their third run off I.F. starter Daniel Concepcion.

In the bottom of the fifth, Chukars center fielder Cody Jones hit a leadoff single. Second baseman D.J. Burt came up next and hit a medium depth fly ball to right fielder Sam Hilliard. Third base coach Gemoll sent Jones on the tag-up, but he was out by several feet to end the inning.

“I don’t regret it,” Gemoll said. “It’s a left-handed outfielder running toward center field, so his body’s taking him away from the play. He just did a great job of being under it, keeping body control, arm strength, accuracy, all of that.”

An inning later, the Chukars regained the lead. Left fielder Amalani Fukofuka hit a leadoff triple and scored a few pitches later on a failed pickoff attempt by Rockies catcher Campbell Wear. Collins delivered again with an RBI triple two batters later, and he scored on a Brawlun Gomez single for a 5-3 Chukars lead.

The game looked in hand with Josh Staumont on the hill, but the right-hander uncharacteristically struggled in the seventh. The rookie allowed four runs (all earned) on three walks, a wild pitch and a double in the inning.

Before Saturday, Staumont had a 1.62 ERA with six walks and 32 strikeouts in 16.2 second-half innings.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, I just think he was working up a little bit more than usual,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “Sometimes you don’t have it every night.”

I.F. got a ninth inning run but it couldn’t muster more.

The Chukars were shorthanded going into the game, and it hurt them. Prior to the top of the seventh, shortstop Jeckson Flores exited the game with a hamstring injury. Ryan Dale replaced him but went to third base, forcing third baseman Logan Nottebrok to second and Burt to shortstop.

Flores, who is day-to-day, is the only true shortstop on the team. Regular shortstop Marten Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

Gemoll said multiple Chukars can play infield, and Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said after Saturday’s game that I.F. will make several moves before today’s game.

The Chukars (32-34) host Grand Junction (27-39, 8-20 second half) today at 4 p.m. Todd Eaton will start on the mound for I.F. in the third game of the four-game series.

Chukars remain in first after 4-2 win over Grand Junction

The Idaho Falls Chukars lead the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings for another day.

A two-run fifth inning powered Idaho Falls to a 4-2 win over the Grand Junction Rockies on Friday at Melaleuca Field to begin a four-game homestand and give the Chukars their 10th win in the last 11 home games. Coupled with Ogden’s 14-6 win over Orem, the Chukars (32-33, 19-8) remain atop the South Division standings by one game over the Owlz.


Nick Dini broke open a scoreless game with a one-out, solo home run in the bottom of the fourth. The Rockies (27-38, 7-20) answered with a solo home run from Jonathan Piron to begin the top of the fifth.

The offensive spark continued in the remainder of the frame, as D.J. Burt put the Chukars ahead again with an RBI-triple that drove in Cody Jones. The hit stretched Burt’s on-base streak to 45 games. The lead was pushed to 3-1 two batters later when Joshua Baneulos scored Burt with a single to right.

Jones, who reached on a fielding error by Grand Junction first baseman Collin Ferguson with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, came home on a wild pitch by James McMahon two batters later for I.F.’s fourth run.

Brendan Rodgers drove in Mylz Jones with a double in the top of the eighth for Grand Junction’s final run.

Dini finished 2 for 3 and Burt went 2 for 5 with a triple, an RBI and a run scored.

Hunter Haynes, who relieved starting pitcher Bryan Brickhouse after three innings, gave up two runs on six hits while walking none and striking out five in five innings. Brandon Thomas earned the save, tossing a scoreless inning while allowing two hits and a walk.

First pitch for game two between the Rockies and Chukars is 7:15 p.m. tonight.