chukars celebrate pioneer title

The Idaho Falls Chukars celebrate after beating Ogden on Sunday to win the Pioneer League championship.

Idaho Falls could lose its minor league baseball team if Major League Baseball goes through with a proposal that was floated recently.

The Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals affiliate and defending 2019 Pioneer League champions, are among 42 teams, that Major League Baseball is considering ending its affiliation with starting in the 2021 season. The proposal would eliminate MLB’s affiliation with the entire eight-team Pioneer League, as well as nine of the 10 teams in the Appalachian League and teams in several other leagues, cutting the number of minor league teams by a quarter overall and moving some other teams into different leagues. The New York Times reported the list of teams on the chopping block on Sunday. The current agreement between major and minor league baseball expires at the end of the 2020 season.

“We are in discussions with the owners of the Minor League teams to reorganize elements of the system with the goal of improving the working conditions of minor league players, including upgrading the facilities to Major League standards, increasing player compensation, reducing travel time between affiliates for road games, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, increasing the number of off days, and providing better geographical affiliations between the M.L.B. Clubs and affiliates,” Major League Baseball said in a statement to the Times.

Minor League Baseball didn’t return a request for comment by press time Monday. A Chukars spokesman said the affected teams have been advised not to comment due to the ongoing negotiations.

Opening night Chukars vs Missoula

Members of the Baker and Hale family pose for a photo with Chukar during opening night for the Chukars at Melaleuca Field on Monday, June 17, 2019.

There are independent minor league baseball leagues, mostly concentrated on the East Coast and in the Midwest. The two closest to Idaho Falls are the Pacific Association, which has several member teams in California, and the Pecos League, whose teams are mostly in the Southwest. However, some national sports reporters have written the loss of major league affiliation and of the support this provides — teams pay the salaries of their minor league affiliates’ players — could mean many of the 42 teams in question will not survive. If this happens, eastern Idaho would lose its only professional sports team.

Other than a few years’ break during World War II, Idaho Falls has had a minor league baseball team continuously since 1940, when they were the New York Yankees-affiliated Idaho Falls Russets. The team has been known as the Chukars and affiliated with the Royals since 2004, when it switched from the Idaho Falls Padres. The team has been playing at Melaleuca Field since the new park opened in 2007. Famous baseball players who played in Idaho Falls early in their careers include Billy Martin in 1946, Jose Canseco in 1982, and more recently Royals stars such as Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.

Major League Baseball’s proposal would eliminate other regional Pioneer League teams such as the Billings Mustangs, Missoula Paddleheads and Great Falls Voyagers in Montana and the Orem Owlz and Ogden Raptors in Utah, leaving baseball fans throughout the Intermountain West with an hourslong drive if they want to see a game. The Colorado Rockies are the closest major league team to Idaho Falls, and their stadium in Denver is more than nine hours from here by car. The Seattle Mariners, the second-closest, are a more than 11-hour drive.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.