Tag: Kevin Greene

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 hire a new broadcaster for the fourth straight year

Ratick
Ratick

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ broadcasting carousel continues to turn.

Last week, the Chukars announced the hiring of Logan Ratick as their director of broadcasting and media relations. Ratick, who is in his senior year at Syracuse University, will be fourth person in four years to fill that position.

Ratick’s duties will include calling Chukars home games alongside John Balginy and calling road games by himself. He will also be in charge of news releases, social media, the Chukars’ website and more.

“I felt like Idaho Falls was a great situation because of the people in the front office, the fact that I could do every single solo on the road and have a chance to learn from John Balginy,” Ratick told the Post Register over the phone earlier this week. “Everything about the situation seemed right.”

Ratick replaces Andrew Haynes, who told the Post Register he landed a temporary broadcasting job in the spring for the University of Texas softball team.

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said he opens the broadcaster position after each season. Sometimes, the most recent broadcaster lands another job, and Greene’s hand is forced. Other times, a new broadcaster rises above the other candidates. Ratick landed in the second category, Greene said.

“He’s a kid with a bright future, and we look forward to having him for a year,” Greene told the Post Register Saturday. “This is nothing more than a stepping stone for this young man.”

Ratick has gained significant baseball broadcasting experience, despite attending the only ACC school without a baseball team. Last summer, he was the play-by-play man for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He served the same role for the Syracuse Jr. Chiefs (New York Collegiate Baseball League) and LeMoyne College.

At Syracuse’s NPR-affiliate radio station, Ratick hosts various sports talks shows, along with postgame shows for the Orange football, men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse teams. He also does play-by-play for the women’s basketball team.

In May, Ratick plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism. He’ll join a prestigious list of Syracuse broadcasting alumni that includes Marv Albert, Bob Costas and Mike Tirico (who is replacing Costas as NBC’s prime time host at the Olympics).

Ratick won’t be the first Syracuse alum to call Chukar games, either. Chris Lewis was the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations in 2013 and 2014. Lewis was a senior at Syracuse when Ratick was a freshman, and Ratick reached out to him when he applied to work for the Chukars.

Ratick’s baseball employment options were limited by his May graduation because most minor league baseball teams begin their seasons in April.

Ratick read the book “Getting in the Game” by broadcaster Josh Lewin for a broadcasting class. The book included a chapter about baseball teams hiring broadcasters at the Baseball Winter Meetings. One of the chapter’s main characters was a man named Kevin Greene.

Ratick attended the Winter Meetings but didn’t receive any offers, so he cold-called several short-season baseball teams (the only minor league affiliates that start their seasons after May). He was immediately intrigued by the Chukars partially because they liked him, partially because their general manager was Greene.

“It’s a little coincidental that we read that story in class and I ended up being the one that made it out of the pool for Idaho Falls,” Ratick said. “I think it was meant to be.”

Ratick, who was born and raised in Connecticut, discovered his love for broadcasting around the age of 8. He was 12 when he set his sights on Syracuse. By then, he was watching baseball games with the sound off so he could practice his future craft.

“The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is broadcast professional baseball,” Ratick said.

He’ll get that chance in four months. The Chukars begin their season on June 19 at Grand Junction.

Chukars’ groundskeeper cultivates baseball passion

Melaleuca Field grounds keeper Ryan Coleman, finishes spray painting the batters box for a recent Chukars game against the Great Falls Voyagers. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)
Melaleuca Field grounds keeper Ryan Coleman, finishes spray painting the batters box for a recent Chukars game against the Great Falls Voyagers. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)

By KEVIN TREVELLYAN
ktrevellyan@postregister.com

Baseball fans take their seats by the hundreds during any given summer evening at Melaleuca Field to watch the Idaho Falls Chukars play.

The announcer lists batters’ names as they step up to home plate. Foul-tipped balls arc in the warm air into the parking lot while players stand watching the game with their arms hanging over the dugout railing.

Elsewhere, usually behind home plate and anonymous to fans watching baseballs skid across the closely trimmed outfield grass, Ryan Coleman sits in the grandstand — likely one of the sport’s youngest professional head groundskeepers.

For Coleman, 24, game days usually run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; he’s there long after fans go home and pitchers have begun strapping ice packs to their arms.

Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman pulls a “nail drag” across the home plate area at Melaleuca Field with his intern, Bryan Duffy. The nail drag levels out the ground and allows the groundskeepers to smooth it with rakes. (Kevin Trevellyan / ktrevellyan@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman pulls a “nail drag” across the home plate area at Melaleuca Field with his intern, Bryan Duffy. The nail drag levels out the ground and allows the groundskeepers to smooth it with rakes. (Kevin Trevellyan / ktrevellyan@postregister.com)

The field requires rehab of its own. Gouges taken out of the infield dirt after a runner slides spike-first into second base need filling; the pitcher’s mound has to be smoothed over.

Maintaining every aspect of the field, from home plate to the dirt warning track, takes immense attention to detail — and an even bigger affinity for the game itself.

“The field, she’s kind of tricky. And if you’re not constantly thinking of ways to improve it, or make it safer and better for the players, I think you’re just going to fall behind,” Coleman said. “We have long days and short nights. You have to love baseball to do it.”

This is Coleman’s second year managing the Chukars’ grounds, and like the players laboring for a chance at the bigs, he too has an eye on advancement within baseball.

Coleman played infield at Feather River College in California, and Concordia University in Portland, Ore. In the summers between he managed fields for Oregon-based Athletic Field Design.

“He showed interest and passion. Usually when I hire someone they’re just there to get money; they don’t want to get into the industry,” said Coleman’s mentor, Athletic Field Design owner Mike Hebrard. “I think he’d do anything he could to keep playing, but this is the next best thing.”

Hebrard recommended Coleman for the Chukars job after hearing about it from an old college baseball teammate.

“He had no girlfriend, no dog — he was perfect, because it’s a lot of hours,” Hebrard said. “You have to throw the clock out the window. There’s no clock in baseball, and there’s no clock in groundskeeping.”

Coleman, post-playing days, enjoys talking to Chukars’ coaches or golfing with some of the players, “just being around baseball really.”

He developed a perfectionist’s eye working on Little League Softball World Series fields with Hebrard.

Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman waters the field in preparation for a Chukars’ game against the Great Falls Voyagers. He and intern Bryan Duffy, left, often work 15-hour days during homestands, fighting a losing battle to bandage the field after the beating it takes each game. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman waters the field in preparation for a Chukars’ game against the Great Falls Voyagers. He and intern Bryan Duffy, left, often work 15-hour days during homestands, fighting a losing battle to bandage the field after the beating it takes each game. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)

“We’re on ESPN, so that field has to look perfect every time,” Coleman said. “That was one thing my boss always harped on. I know we’re not on TV here in Idaho Falls, but I still try to take what I learned from him and teach it to my guys now.”

Coleman works with intern Bryan Duffy. It’s just them when the Chukars are away; Coleman has a few more interns working for him before home games.

“When he got here he didn’t have a significant amount of experience, but he’s done an exceptional job, especially for the lack of help I provide him — a lot of Minor League ballparks have entire grounds crews,” said Chukars General Manager Kevin Greene. “It might seem thankless at times because you’re out there by yourself busting it, but you get a couple years experience and you work your way up just like a player might.”

Eastern Idaho presents unique maintenance challenges compared to the damp Pacific Northwest where Coleman grew up; he’s contradicting nature’s course every time he pours a soil additive into the outfield at Melaleuca.

“We have real poor soil here for growing grass,” said Brad Clayton, Falls Fertilizer consultant. “Especially when there’s a baseball game there almost every day in warmer months between high school and the pros.”

Coleman works with Clayton to figure out which materials the field needs — which fertilizers and nitrogen supplements will strike the proper pH balance to allow Idaho Falls’ clay soil to accept grass roots.

“It’s always hot and always windy; that’s the toughest part,” Coleman said. “You have to keep the infield dirt moist when it’s 90 degrees outside and winds are blowing 20 mph; it sucks the water right out of the ground.”
Coleman expects to work for the Chukars at least through next season, but he’s keeping his eye on the possibility of another job higher up the professional baseball hierarchy, possibly for an A or AA team.

“If I can make a field look perfect in Idaho Falls with the little resources I have, when I have more supplies at another job I can make that field even better,” Coleman said. “The attention to detail is the biggest thing to me.”

Coleman’s age and lack of formal field management education is unusual in his field.

“A majority of our members — 72 percent — has either a degree or certificate in some sort of turf grass management, most of them have studied agronomy or turf grass science,” said Kim Heck, Chief Executive Officer of the Sports Turf Managers Association. “And at 24, he would definitely be one of the youngest heads groundskeepers in Minor League Baseball.”

Though he doesn’t have a degree, Coleman’s education is ongoing, whether its leafing through the newest issue of SportsTurf Magazine, or picking the brain of the Kansas City Royals’ head groundskeeper.

Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman rakes the dirt around home plate before a recent Chukars’ home game against the Great Falls Voyagers. Nine innings of batters tapping their toes and stomping into the dirt as they swing the bat makes a mess of Coleman’s delicate patching. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars head groundskeeper Ryan Coleman rakes the dirt around home plate before a recent Chukars’ home game against the Great Falls Voyagers. Nine innings of batters tapping their toes and stomping into the dirt as they swing the bat makes a mess of Coleman’s delicate patching. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register / prphoto@postregister.com)

Wednesday afternoon while the Chukars were in Grand Junction, Colo., Coleman worked on the field with Duffy.

Away stretches give groundskeepers time to properly fix the spots they had to bandage during the previous home stretch.

Sprinklers sprayed water throughout the field while Coleman and Duffy worked on a gash near third base.

“Did they win last night?” Duffy said.

“They lost, Luna threw seven good innings then they gave it up to a lefty,” Coleman said, shoveling clay and soil onto the infield.

Afterward they dragged a rectangular wooden frame full of downward-facing nails across the home plate area, leveling out a hump where the umpire stands.

Little holes pockmarked the ground where batters dug their feet into the earth. A record of innate player tics common from Little League to Major League Baseball can be found all over the field.

“It kills Bryan and I to see it sometimes,” Coleman says with a smile. “Most of the batters are righties, and the hole next to home plate gets gnarly.”

They wet the hole and packed it with fresh clay; just like you would in a pottery class, Coleman said, as he scored lines in the clay and added another layer. He pounded the repair with a heavy, flat-bottomed tool, and squatted to run his hands across the material. The only record of his work was the wet spot left on the smooth ground.

During games, Coleman’s available in case there’s an emergency. Though he usually takes a seat behind home plate, he’ll meander around the grandstand. Knowing that they’re unaware of his presence, Coleman enjoys hearing people talk about how the field looks.

After playing baseball since childhood, making a career of the sport hasn’t hampered his enjoyment of it.

“It makes me love baseball more, knowing what goes into it. My uncle manages a golf course, and the last thing he wants to do after work is play nine holes. As long as that doesn’t happen to me, I’m stoked,” Coleman said. “I get to watch baseball during my break, what’s better than that?”

Chukars extend their affiliation with the Kansas City Royals through 2018

chukars-logo-125x125

The Idaho Falls Chukars will remain a Rookie-level affiliate of the Kansas City Royals for at least two more seasons.

The Chukars and Royals agreed to an extension through 2018, the Chukars announced Wednesday. Before the extension was finalized, the affiliation was going to expire at the end of this season.

“We are truly excited to continue our partnership with the Idaho Falls Chukars,” Royals director of minor league operations Ronnie Richardson said in a news release. “The Idaho Falls organization and the entire community continue to embrace our players and staff each year, and that truly makes Idaho Falls a special place to develop our players.”

The Chukars have been a Royals affiliate since 2004, so Wednesday’s extension will give them 15 seasons (and counting) in Kansas City’s system. The only MLB club to have I.F. as an affiliate for a longer period of time was the California Angels from 1965 to 1981.

“We couldn’t be happier with the relationship that we have developed with the Kansas City Royals over the past 12 1⁄2 seasons,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said in the news release.

The Chukars have made three Pioneer League championship series since 2004. They beat Helena in 2013 for their only league title as a Royals affiliate.

Local umpires step up at Chukars games

Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Teagan Smith knows Melaleuca Field well, but the ballpark looked foreign to him last Thursday.

Smith umpired an Idaho Falls Chukars game for the first time in his 10-year umpiring career.

His experience at Melaleuca Field is exclusive to high school games, which might feature 100 fans on a good night. The attendance at last Thursday’s game between the Chukars and Helena Brewers was 3,177.

The mix of a large crowd and professional stakes led to a bundle of nerves for Smith, who was filling in for the injured Jacob Botek. But the butterflies fluttered away once the game got rolling.

“It’s just baseball,” Smith said.

Smith was one of three local umpires who picked up Botek’s slack during the Chukars’ most recent homestand. Idaho Falls general manager Kevin Greene is tasked with finding replacement umpires. Conflicting schedules and low pay sometimes make that job difficult.

On the rare occasions when Greene needs to find a replacement umpire, he turns to Brent Martin. Martin is the District 6 commissioner for umpires and rules interpreter, and he has filled in at Chukars games for years. Martin declined to umpire last week due to a bad knee, so he recommended Smith and Brad Hadley to Greene.

Hadley worked with Pioneer League umpire Conner Culhane on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. But neither Hadley nor Smith could work Friday’s game due to their previous commitments as umpires for American Legion baseball games. That left Greene in a bind.

“I called the (Pioneer) League president and said, ‘I’ve got no one,’ Greene said. “He said, ‘Kevin, you’ve gotta find someone.’”

Greene eventually got Chris Sundvold to fill in.

Players and coaches know the replacement umpires are not professionals, but the umpires didn’t poor treatment from the teams. And Smith, Hadley and Sundvold umpired relatively clean games. It’s just baseball, after all.

The only real issue is finding umpires, and scheduling is not the only conflicting factor.

The Pioneer League pays replacement umpires $75 per game, according to league president Jim McCurdy. Martin said umpires get paid about $75 for Legion games, and that number spikes to $120 for doubleheaders. Barring extra innings, Legion games last seven innings, and mercy rules can reduce game times even more. Every Pioneer League game goes at least nine innings, and umpires are required to show up an hour before first pitch.

“You should be getting $100, minimum, for a professional baseball game,” Martin said. “We don’t want to bleed them dry, but we think we should be compensated at least to the high school level or better.”

Umpires can make more than $75 for Pioneer League games, but the extra cash comes out of the team’s wallet, Greene said, and there’s only so much room in the budget. McCurdy said increased pay for replacement umps has not been discussed in recent league meetings.

Hadley doesn’t mind the meager pay. For one, the opportunities for local umpires to work Chukars games are so rare that the money they receive hardly affects their total income. Martin, for instance, hasn’t umped a Chukars game since 2014.

Hadley also considers it a privilege to work Chukars games.

“It’s fun to say that you’ve umped a (professional) game, even though it’s minor league,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the pay because it’s not that big of a deal.”

Melaleuca Field gets a new outfield wall for the first time since the 1970s

Blackfoot left fielder Daden Jorgensen camps under a fly ball in a nonconference game against Skyline on Friday, March 18 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Blackfoot left fielder Daden Jorgensen camps under a fly ball in a nonconference game against Skyline on Friday, March 18 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

For the first time in four decades, Melaleuca Field is getting a new outfield wall.

The new fence has been under construction since the end of the 2015 Idaho Falls Chukars season, and it is scheduled to be completed in mid-May. Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said the old plywood fence was rotting, so the City of Idaho Falls could no longer put off the project.

“It needed to be done,” Greene said. “When you build a ballpark like Melaleuca Field, you need to maintain it.”

The last time the city built a new wall at Melaleuca Field was around 1974, according to Idaho Falls Parks and Cemetery superintendent Brent Martin, who is overseeing the new wall project. The previous wall was built after a windstorm blew the wall over. The new wall survived a fire that burned down Melaleuca Field (then Highland Park) in 1975, and it lasted until this previous fall.

The fence was ready to be replaced years ago.

The stadium was rebuilt — and renamed Melaleuca Field — in 2007, but there wasn’t enough money to replace the outfield wall, Greene said. Martin said the city council repeatedly denied Parks and Recreation requests to fund a new wall due to high proposed costs.

As the years passed, the wall became increasingly unstable.

“There were support beams that were literally sheared off from the bottom,” Greene said. “I would go up there on an extension ladder and the whole thing would shake. I felt unsafe being 8-10 feet off the ground.”

Greene said the Kansas City Royals, the Chukars’ MLB affiliate, contacted him asking for the wall to be replaced out of concern for player safety.

The wall came down shortly after the Chukars’ season ended in September.

Martin said the city budgeted $125,000 for the new wall, and so far the city has spent $70,000 on materials. Greene also secured contracts with Rodda Paint, Ashgrove Cement and Valley Ready Mix for the project.

High school baseball teams are currently playing at Melaleuca Field in front of an unfinished wall of plywood. Greene said the wall will be completed in less than two months, before the Chukars come to town. The wall’s advertisement banners will be placed in the exact same spots as last year, which will help mask the changes to fans this summer.

“It will look just like it did before,” Greene said. “You won’t notice any difference.”

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

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.”

PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

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.

ROSTER MOVES

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.

THE ‘WHO’S HOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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.

THE ‘WHO’S NOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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 Notebook: Ogden to host Northwest vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game

Idaho Falls Chukar's Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden's Jake Henson during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukar’s Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden’s Jake Henson during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field.
(Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The inaugural Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game does not appear to be the last.

The Ogden Raptors announced near the end of Tuesday’s all-star game that they will host the 2016 game, pending approval from Minor League Baseball. The success of Tuesday’s game, hosted by the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians, led to the decision to play another one next year, this time at a Pioneer League ballpark.

“It will be a big project for us but we will be excited and ready for the game,” Raptors president Dave Baggot said in an article on Ogden’s website.

Ogden could not be reached for comment.

The date and time of next year’s all-star game have not yet been announced. Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy and Northwest League president Mike Ellis will make a joint application for MiLB approval, and Idaho Falls Chukars general manager Kevin Greene hopes the game will be approved in the next few weeks.

“I think what they’re really waiting for is to get feedback from all of the farm directors from all the teams that participated,” Greene said. “Make sure all the farm directors are comfortable with us moving forward and doing this annually.”

As Greene told the Post Register before Tuesday’s all-star game, Ogden was a prime candidate to host next year’s all-star game. The Raptors’ ballpark, Lindquist Field, has a capacity of 6,700 people, making it the largest ballpark in the Pioneer League. Spokane’s Avista Stadium had an attendance of 7,083 for Tuesday’s all-star game.

Other than ballpark size, location was another key factor for Ogden’s all-star game selection. Ogden is about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, narrowly surpassing Orem as the closest Pioneer League town to an international airport. Ogden’s proximity to Salt Lake’s airport allows Northwest League teams to save time and money compared to the Pioneer League’s seven other venues (Idaho Falls; Orem; Grand Juction, Colo.; Billings, Mont.; Helena, Mont.; Missoula, Mont; Great Falls, Mont.).

Next year’s likely all-star game wouldn’t have been possible if Tuesday’s inaugural game went poorly. It went anything but, according to multiple people at the event. The home run derby was well-done, Greene said, and the capacity crowd was treated to a thrilling 6-5, extra-inning victory by the Northwest League.

“Spokane did such a great job,” Greene said. “Their attention to detail was spot-on. These guys worked very, very hard, and they spent a lot of money to pull it off the way they did. The way it was all put together, you couldn’t have asked for it to be done better.

“I’d hate to be the one to try and follow what they did.”

ROSTER MOVES

On Aug. 2, Chukars’ left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons was placed on the voluntary retirement list. The Chukars could not provide further details, and Sons could not be reached for comment.

Sons, 22, was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals. In seven starts and 26.2 innings this season for Idaho Falls, Sons had a 10.80 ERA on 14 walks, 21 strikeouts and five home runs.

The Chukars also added a player on Aug. 2. Catcher Luis Lara, 20, was promoted from the Arizona League, where he had a .278 batting average, a .381 on-base percentage and a .278 slugging percentage in 36 at-bats.

Idaho Falls now has four catchers on its active roster.

Lara played his first game in an Chukars uniform on Saturday. He went 2 for 4 at the plate against Helena.

WHO’S HOT?

RHP Josh Staumont

Staumont has been electric since he joined Idaho Falls on July 15, but he was also wild early on. In his first appearance with the Chukars on July 16 against Missoula, Staumont walked five and gave up two earned runs in 0.2 innings. The 21-year-old settled down a bit his next three relief appearances, but he still finished the first half with 11 walks, nine strikeouts and four earned runs in 7.1 innings.

Staumont, a second- round pick by Kansas City in the 2015 MLB draft, has given up one earned run in his 6.2 second half innings (three relief appearances). But more importantly, he’s walked three batters while striking out 11. Staumont’s fastball has hit 100-plus miles per hour on several occasions, as well.

WHO’S NOT?

1B Josh Banuelos

It’s not easy to find a struggling player on a team that’s won eight consecutive games, and hardly any Chukar is currently slumping. But compared to his hot start, Banuelos fits that bill.

Banuelos’ batting average was .361 before Idaho Falls’ game against Orem on July 23. He’s gone 12 for 44 (.273) since, dropping his season average to .337.

Perhaps most concerning for Banuelos are his walks, or lack thereof. He’s drawn two walks since July 20, leading to a 35-point drop in his on-base percentage.

Banuelos, a 2015 Pioneer League all-star, missed four games last week due to a bone bruise in his hand.

Chukars gear up for brand new Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Tonight, the Pioneer League will play in its first all-star game in over half a century.

Three Idaho Falls Chukars will represent the league, which will compete against an all-star team of players from the Single-A short-season Northwest League. The eight Pioneer League Rookie-level teams hope tonight’s game — at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Wash. — will be the first of many.

Banuelos.
Banuelos.

“Everyone in the league is very excited about it,” Chukars’ general manager Kevin Greene said. “It puts us on par with the Northwest League.”

The Pioneer League has not participated in an all-star game since 1964, according to league president Jim McCurdy citing league records. The Pioneer League played all-star games up to 1964, when it switched from long-season to short-season.

McCurdy and Northwest League president Mike Ellis got the ball rolling on an all-star game this season. Ellis is the owner of the Pioneer League’s Missoula Osprey. He and McCurdy gained support from every team in their respective leagues, and they proposed the interleague all-star game to Minor League Baseball. The MiLB approved the all-star game for one year.

This is the first interleague all-star game between short-season leagues in MiLB history, according to McCurdy. Tonight’s game will have to run smoothly in order for the MiLB to approve another one.

“We anticipate that our 2015 game will go very well,” McCurdy said in a phone interview.

Fukofuka.
Fukofuka.

If the MiLB approves of a game next year, a Pioneer League city will host (the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians are hosting tonight’s game). Greene said he would not propose an all-star game in Idaho Falls next year, at least not at this juncture.

The main reason for Greene’s hesitation is ballpark size. Avista Stadium seats approximately 9,000 people. The Orem Owlz and the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League both have stadium capacities over 6,000.

Melaleuca Field’s capacity is 3,400.

“I think you have to have a bigger ballpark to be profitable for something like this,” Greene said.

Orem and Ogden have another advantage: travel. Salt Lake City neighbors both towns, and it has an international airport where Northwest League teams could directly fly to. Cities like Idaho Falls and Missoula would require either a connecting flight or a long drive for the Northwest League teams.

Until tonight’s game ends, no one knows if a second all-star game is likely or not. So McCurdy, Greene and Idaho Falls’ three all-stars (all reserves) are solely focused on Spokane.

First baseman Josh Banuelos is making the first all-star appearance in his baseball career, he said, from little league to professional baseball. Banuelos is hitting .338 with a .405 on-base percentage and a .461 slugging percentage in 173 plate appearances this season. His parents, Luis and Silvia Banuelos, will be in attendance.

Banuelos missed four straight games last week due to a bone bruise in his hand, and the pain likely won’t dissipate until the season ends. But the 23-year-old would always take an all-star game appearance instead of three days of rest.

“We have six months to rest after the season,” Banuelos said.

Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka said the all-star game validates his hard work and last season, when he hit .183/.266/.289 in 204 plate appearances for Burlington.

“Coming into this season, I had a chip on my shoulder,” the 19-year-old Fukofuka said. “This year is important for me, and my hard work is kind of paying off.”

Fukofuka is hitting .343/.395/.483 in 191 plate appearances this season.

Davis.
Davis.

Idaho Falls’ third all-star is reliever Tripp Davis. After a poor season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the left-hander felt great this spring. That’s when the Kansas City Royals’ front office asked Davis to consider switching to a sidearm delivery. The Royals told Davis he’d provide more value as a side-armer.

Davis, 24, debated, but he decided to make the change. His 3.24 ERA (inflated by a six-run outing against Orem on July 24) and all-star selection this season have helped him justify the decision, he said.

Former Chukar Alexis Rivera was also named to the all-star team. The outfielder and first baseman moved up to Lexington on July 5 after hitting .362/.494/.739 and leading the Pioneer League at the time in home runs (seven) and walks (17).

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Rivera said in a phone interview. “It would’ve been cool to go to it, but I’m glad I got promoted.”

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 8:05 Mountain Time following a home run derby.

2015 PIONEER LEAGUE ALL-STARS

C: Taylor Ward, Orem

1B: Austin Byler, Missoula

2B: Willie Calhoun, Ogden

SS: Isan Diaz, Missoula

3B: Michael Pierson, Orem

OF: Nick Sell, Ogden

OF: Daniel Suero, Grand Junction

OF: Kyle Survance, Orem

DH: Zach Fish, Great Falls

P: Tanner Banks, Great Falls

Reserves P : Ty Boyles, Billlings

P: Hunter Brothers, Grand Junction

P: Tripp Davis, Idaho Falls

P: Marcos Diplan, Helena

P: Evin Einhart, Great Falls

P: Joe Gatto, Orem

P: Dan Savas, Missoula

P: Cameron Smith, Missoula

P: Christian Trent, Helena

C: Luke Lowery, Missoula

1B: Josh Banuelos, Idaho Falls

SS: Nick Dean*, Ogden

SS: Blake Trahan, Billlings

3B: Brantly Bell, Billlings

OF: Amalani Fukofuka, Idaho Falls

OF: Monte Harrison*, Helena

OF: Matt Jones, Ogden

OF: Alexis Rivera*, Idaho Falls

* indicates player was selected but will not appear due to injury or promotion.

Manager: Dick Schofield, Billings

Pitching coach: Derrin Ebert, Billings

Hitting coach: Jolbert Cabrera, Billings

2015 NORTHWEST LEAGUE ALL-STARS

C: Miguel Gomez, Salem-Keizer

1B: Brian Mundell, Boise

2B: Dylan Moore, Spokane

3B: Kevin Padlo, Boise

SS: Drew Jackson, Everett

OF: LeDarious Clark, Spokane

OF: Zach Nehrir, Hillsboro

OF: Logan Taylor, Everett

DH: Jose Vizcaino Jr., Salem-Keizer

P: Jared Miller, Hillsboro

Reserves C: Hamley Marte, Boise

INF: Justin Atkinson, Vancouver

INF: Chris Shaw, Salem-Keizer

INF: Peter Van Gansen, Tri-City

INF: Yeyson Yrizarri, Spokane

OF: Sean Hurley, Vancouver

OF: Eloy Jimenez, Eugene

RHP: Pedro Araujo, Eugene

RHP: Andrew Case, Vancouver

RHP: Oscar De La Cruz, Eugene

LHP: Luis Gohara, Everett

LHP: Brandon Hinkle, Vancouver

RHP: Carlos Hernandez, Hillsboro

LHP: Elvin Liriano, Tri-City

LHP: Andrew Leenhouts, Salem-Keizer

LHP: Cody Reed, Hillsboro

Manager: Tim Hulett Sr., Spokane

Hiting coach: Rick Down, Spokane

Pitching coach: Jose Jaimes, Spokane