The Idaho Falls Chukars faced the Boise Hawks in the Highway Series decider. The series was an "inter league" game as Boise and Idaho Falls aren't from the same division. Boise came into the game at the bottom of the Southern Division at 7-16, while the Chukars were 2nd in the Northern Division at 13-10, 6 games behind the #1 Missoula Paddleheads (19-4). In the Southern Division, the Ogden Raptors lead at 18-5 which put the Hawks 11 games back. The Hawks were looking to win the series, and get back on track, while the Chukars were looking to get a much needed series win before a hard series against Missoula.
Pioneer League Standings:
Missoula Paddleheads 19 - 4
Idaho Falls Chukars 13 - 10
Billings Mustangs 11 - 12
Great Falls Voyagers 9 - 14
Ogden Raptors 18 - 4
Grand Junction Rockies 8 - 15
Rocky Mountain Vibes 7 - 16
Boise Hawks 7 - 16
The Pioneer League was apart of the MLB's plan to cut down the minor league system in 2020, was cut, and became a MLB Partner League. The Boise Hawks joined the Pioneer League after they were given news that they would be being cut in full in 2020 and had to go find a league to play in before 2021, so they went to the Pioneer League. Boise took the place of the Orem Owlz, who will be taking 2021 off to relocate and become the Northern Colorado Owlz, in the Southern Division. The Owlz will be rejoining the league in 2022. Another team that had a similar fate as the Hawks, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Former Giants affiliate), created their own league of four teams, operating from Volcanoes Stadium, to survive this "chopping down" of minor league affiliates. The Pioneer League has not changed much, though, since the change, and fans are as interested as ever.
The Chukars Organization has an incredible history. They started in 1926, lasted for 2 years in the Utah-Idaho League as the Idaho Falls Spuds, and restarted the franchise as the Idaho Falls Russets, part of the Pioneer League in 1940. They were there as an affiliate of the Yankees until the league paused operation for World War II. They were an affiliate of the Dodgers in 1948, switched to the Giants in 1949, and then became a farm team for the PCL team Sacramento Solons in 1953. From 1954-58, they were affiliated with the Tigers, the Pirates in 1959, and the White Sox from 1960-1961. In 1962, they became apart of the Yankees organization again, and changed their name to the Idaho Falls Yankees. From 1966-1981, they were apart of the Angels organization and became the Idaho Falls Angels. Then, from 1982-1984, they were apart of the Athletics organization, and became the Idaho Falls A's. In 1985, they were the Idaho Falls Eagles, but in 1986 they were picked up by the Braves, and became the Idaho Falls Braves. In 1992, their name was changed to the Gems, but back to the Braves in 1993. In 1995, the Padres scooped the Idaho Falls Braves up, but kept the name until changing the name to the Padres in 2000. The Royals picked the organization up, and made the name the Idaho Falls Chukars which it remains today. From 1940-1962, they were Minor League Class C, Class A in 1963, and in Rookie Advanced from 1964-2020. They are currently independent, and have kept the name since the change. Kevin Greene is the current GM and Billy Gardner Jr. Former Kansas City Royal Billy Butler is their hitting coach. John Balginy and Tyler Petersen are currently the voices of the Chukars. While Tyler is new, John has been the voice of the Chukars for the past 38 years. The PA Announcer for the Chukars is Javier Hernandez, who rounds out the crew of one of the best broadcasting crews in all of baseball (In my opinion). Their voices are some the best I've ever heard. Some famous alumni of Idaho Falls are Jose Conseco, Billy Butler, Joe Maddon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer among others. The Chukars have been playing at Melaleuca Field since 2007 after leaving McDermott Field, in which they had played since 1978. The Chukars have won their division and league 8 times each, and had their 8th for both in 2019.
ABOVE: The History of the Idaho Falls Chukars
Melaleuca Field was packed with fans ready for the Chukars to compete in the game that would see who the series winner would be. The Chukars were hosting Little League night for the Little Leagues of surronding towns such as Ammon and Blackfoot. The turnout from fans was so incredible that they had to go into standing mode, and the Little Leaguers were ecstatic. The lineups were rolled out before the game which listed Joe Slocum to start for the Chukars and Matt Gabbert to start for the Hawks. Slocum was 1-0, coming off a game where he let in 5 runs in 4.1 innings in a Chukars' loss against Grand Junction. Gabbert was 0-1, coming off his first start against the Voyagers, where he gave up 4 runs in 5.2 innings. Chukars Right Fielder Matt Feinstein was celebrating his birthday Friday, and started for the Chukars.
The Chukars started slow, but got hot in the 3rd inning when Webb Little walked and Matt Feinstein celebrated his birthday with a 2 run homer to give the Chukars the lead. The Chukars kept it going in the 4th with 3 runs on RBIs from Sam Barmakian, Webb Little, and Matt Feinstein. In the 5th inning, the Hawks brought in Liam Steigerwald, and the Chukars blew him out of the park with 6 runs scored on homers from Brady West and Matt Feinstein, and RBIs from Webb Little and Daniel Molinari. The Hawks fired back in the 6th inning, with a rally to score 4 runs before the Chukars replaced Slocum with Yeison Medina who allowed 2 more runs before cloising out the inning. Steigerwald stayed in, and the Chukars took advantage of it by scoring 2 more runs with RBIs from Webb Little and Matt Feinstein before Cannon Chadwick came in and retired the side. In the 7th, the Chukars brought Mason Alexander in who retired the side, and Chadwick did the same. In the 8th, Boise scored a run, so the Chukars brought in Nick Floyd who easily retired the side. Hawks' Right Fielder Robby Enriquez came into the game at pitcher in the 8th, and the Hawks sent a pitcher to right field. Enriquez allowed 3 runs on a homer from Webb Little and RBIs from Brady West and Thomas DeBonville before striking out the side. Keagan McGinnis came in to finish the game for the Chukars, and retired the side to give the Chukars the win, 16-7.
The Chukars had 16 runs on 22 hits with 3 errors, and 12 runners left on base while the Hawks had 7 runs on 8 hits with 3 errors and 9 runners left on base. Joe Slocum got the win with 4 runs (2 ER) on 4 hits and a walk with 3 strikeouts in 5 innings pitched while Matt Gabbert got the loss with 5 runs (4 ER) on 8 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts. Slocum's ERA is now 5.02 while Gabbert's ERA is now 5.40. The Player of the Game was Birthday Boy Matt Feinstein who was 4 for 5 with a walk, 2 home runs, a double, a single, and a strike out with 7 RBIs. Feinstein played really well and could be apart of a MLB Organization soon as scouts regularly come to these games. The game lasted 4 hours and 6 minutes and the attendence count was 3,544. The Cuckars advanced to 14-10 and the Hawks dropped to 7-17.
I was on Chukars Radio in the Bottom of the 8th inning, and met the great broadcasting team made up of the "Voice of the Chukars" John Balginy, who has been with the Chukars for 38 years, Tyler Petersen, a young broadcaster who joined the Chukars in 2021 and is doing great, and Javier Hernandez is the Chukars PA Announcer Javier Hernandez and is absolutely great. All of the team was very nice. From GM Kevin Greene to the interns, everyone had smiles and was very kind. All in all, the Chukars are a great team with a bright future, a kind staff, and great broadcasters.
Standings after the game:
Paddleheads 19 - 5
Chukars 14 - 10
Mustangs 11 - 13
Voyagers 10 - 14
Raptors 19 - 4
Rockies 9 - 15
Vibes 7 - 17
Hawks 7 - 17
Duration of Game: 4 hours and 6 minutes (7:17 PM to 11:23 PM)