By VICTOR FLORES
The Orem Owlz were left scrambling.
Their media director and road play-by-play broadcaster Joey Zanaboni resigned June 19, in light of the Owlz’s controversial announcement of their promotion “Caucasian Heritage Night.”
Zanaboni’s resignation left the Owlz, the Los Angeles Angels’ Rookie-level affiliate, without a road play-by-play voice for their upcoming road trip, which started June 22.
Orem’s front office frantically searched for a replacement. One of them was David Winkworth, whom the Owlz knew after he (unsuccessfully) applied to be their public address announcer years earlier. Winkworth had broadcasting experience, lived in the Salt Lake City area and was available for the rest of Orem’s season.
The Owlz hired him on June 21.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from fans on social media and from the Owlz,” Winkworth said in a phone interview. “They said, ‘You’re doing a good job so far,’ and I’m really enjoying my time.”
Two days before “Caucasian Heritage Night” was announced, nine African-American people were shot and killed in a Charleston, S.C., church. Dylan Roof, a white man, has been charged with the murders.
According to Zanaboni, via Twitter, he warned the Owlz’s front office about the potential public outcry “Caucasian Heritage Night” would create. He resigned after the team went ahead with the announcement and the outcry arrived.
In a statement, the Owlz said their announcement of the event — scheduled for Aug. 10 — was ill-timed.
“We understand in light of recent tragic events that our intentions have been misconstrued,” the Owlz’s statement said, via the Salt Lake Tribune. “For that, we sincerely apologize.”
The Owlz quickly cancelled the event. Orem’s general manager Justo Vazquez declined to talk about the situation.
As Orem searched for Zanaboni’s replacement, Winkworth’s public address application put him on their radar. Lack of experience cost him the PA job. His resume has grown since.
Since 2012, the Utah Valley University alum has interned at ESPN 700 (a Salt Lake City sports radio station), hosted a sports podcast, helped produce a sports TV show for Salt Lake Community College and covered the Utah Grizzlies (an East Coast Hockey League team affiliated with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks) for KSL.com, among other work.
That experience, along with his local residence and summer availability, made him a clear favorite for the Owlz over the four to five other candidates.
Vazquez has been impressed with Winkworth’s performance so far.
“He learned everything from scratch — the team, the players — so I think he’s done an admirable job,” Vazquez said in a phone interview.
Winkworth said he’s enjoyed his four weeks with the Owlz.
“I love just sitting there, talking sports,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me.”
Winkworth was in Idaho Falls on Fourth of July weekend for Orem’s three-game series against the Chukars. He’ll return two more times: from July 27-29 and August 5-6.
Winkworth is only guaranteed this job through the end of the season. If a more attractive opportunity opens up after the season, he’ll take it. But if he wants to return as Orem’s road play-by-play voice next year, he’ll have an advantage over other candidates.
“If he goes through the season, keeps improving and shows us something, he obviously has the experience, so he’ll have the upper hand on anyone going into next year,” Vazquez said.
After Idaho Falls’ 8-5 loss to Orem on July 5, three Chukars were promoted to the Single-A Lexington Legends, most notably Alexis Rivera.
The left-handed outfielder and first baseman still leads the Pioneer League in home runs (seven) and walks (17), despite leaving Idaho Falls a week ago. He also hit .362 in his 69 at-bats with the Chukars.
Idaho Falls also lost left-handed pitchers Eric Stout (3.38 ERA in 2.2 innings for the Chukars) and Brennan Henry (1.69 in 5.1).
Those three joined former Chukar infielder Luis Valenzuela, who transferred to Lexington on July 2. Valenzuela leads the Legends with a .375 batting average and a .974 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (OPS) in 16 at-bats.
Rivera has gone 1 for 9 with a walk in his three games with Lexington. Henry, who transferred from Lexington to Idaho Falls on June 22, has a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings for the Legends. Stout’s ERA is 3.00 in 3.0 innings.
Right-handed pitcher Carter Hope moved up from the Arizona League Royals to the Chukars on July 5. He’s made one appearance (a start) for Idaho Falls, giving up two earned runs in 3.1 innings against Great Falls on Wednesday.
Former Chukars make All-Star team
Seven Kansas City Royals made this year’s American League All-Star team. Two are former Chukars — third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez.
Moustakas played 11 games for Idaho Falls as an 18-year-old in 2007, hitting .293.
Perez played 12 games for the Chukars in 2008 (at age 18) and 59 games in 2009. He hit over .300 both seasons.
Cuthbert’s short MLB stint
Former Chukar Cheslor Cuthbert made his major league debut for Kansas City on Tuesday. He lasted four games, all starts at third base, going 5 for 15 (.333) with a triple.
Cuthbert played 14 games for Idaho Falls in 2010 (at age 18), hitting .233.
The Chukars’ bullpen
Singling out one reliever would be unfair. Idaho Falls’ bullpen has not allowed an earned run in its last 25 innings pitched (it has allowed an unearned run). The starters, however, have allowed 24 earned runs in their last 23 innings.
OF Brawlun Gomez
Gomez posted a .327 batting average and four home runs through his first 13 games. He has gone 1 for 20 with 11 strikeouts since, dropping his batting average to .253.
Saturday’s game rained out
Idaho Falls’ scheduled game at Missoula on Saturday was rained out. Both teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader today starting at 5 p.m. Both games will go seven innings, barring extra innings, and the second game will start 30 minutes after the first concludes.