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Official Review by Jason Karp, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Melaleuca Field is the home of the Idaho Falls Chukars Minor League Baseball team. The Chukars are part of the Kansas City Royals farm system at the rookie advanced level, and a member of the eight team Pioneer League. Idaho Falls is a city of about 56,000 in Eastern Idaho stationed on the banks of the Snake River. The ballpark is carved out of a residential neighborhood on a site that has had baseball played on it since 1919. Melaleuca Field opened in 2007, replacing the aging McDermott Field. When fund raising stalled and threatened to derail the project, the Idaho Falls based Melaleuca Corporation stepped up with a large donation to put them over the top and get it built.
Idaho Falls has had a team in the Pioneer League since 1940 with various nicknames over the years, often just borrowing the mascot of their parent major league club. In 2004, the fans of Idaho Falls voted to permanently call their team the Chukars. A chukar is a game bird, also known as a partridge, that was introduced from Europe and thrives all over Idaho. As a mascot, it is only slightly less intimidating than a previous Idaho Falls incarnation, the Russets (a type of potato). But Chukars is also a very unique mascot not likely to be duplicated, plus it sounds kind of tough if you don’t know what it is.
Melaleuca Field can hold up to 3,600 loyal Chukar fans during the Pioneer League’s short, but very pleasant June through September season.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I was quite surprised by the wide variety and quality of the foods offered at Melaleuca Field. The grill right behind the counter is going full blast and burgers, brats, and hot dogs are on the menu. They also have lots of fried delicacies like chicken strips and french fries. There is also pork BBQ sandwiches, Dominoes Pizza, and nachos. There is also plenty of snacky stuff, far beyond just peanuts and Cracker Jacks (though they have those too) including caramel corn, snow cones, ice cream, and candy. I was almost disappointed I had eaten dinner prior to the game!
There is a wide variety of beers on tap including Budweiser, Bud Light, Sam Adams, Moose Drool, and other local micros. They even have a variety of wines available. A stand behind the stadium offers additional beer brands along with Mikes Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, and others.
The staff is friendly and attentive, and though they get busy between innings the wait is not long.
Prices are about what you'd expect to find at a minor league franchise that needs to generate some revenue. A 12 oz. domestic beer is $4.50 and micros are $5.50. A large soda (Pepsi products) is $4.50. A cheeseburger is $6.50, 8 inch Dominoes pizza is $6.50, and chicken tenders and fries are $7.00. Two generous scoops of ice cream is $3.50 in a cup or $4.50 in a souvenir mini batting helmet.
With no college or university teams in Idaho Falls, the Chukars are at the top of the local spectator sports food chain. The Chukars are third in the Pioneer League in attendance trailing only Ogden and Billings, both of which are much larger cities. So don't expect to be sitting by yourself.
The stadium has a great look and feel. Baseball has been played on the site since 1919. The ballpark is molded seamlessly into a residential neighborhood with green parks, well kept yards, and mature trees all around.
The atmosphere in the ballpark is relaxed as with any typical minor league baseball game. The P.A. announcer does a good job of keeping everyone informed in a straight forward professional manner, and there is always some sort of happening going on in between innings, usually involving the Chukar mascot and kids, which are in great abundance.
The general admission seats are metal bleachers, so if you choose to sit there a seat cushion is a good idea.
Idaho Falls just oozes traditional American family values, so it's not surprising that America's pastime is popular here. Idaho Falls is not edgy, trendy, or gritty in any way. It is clean, safe, and a great place to raise a family. There are also endless outdoor recreational opportunities in every direction, and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the Craters of the Moon National Monument are an easy drive away.
Melaleuca Field is in a very walkable residential neighborhood where the only non-residential buildings are churches. But motel and restaurant row on Lindsay Boulevard is only about 1.5 miles away. Prior to the game we discovered, amongst the plentiful chain restaurants like Chili's, Applebees, and Outback, the Snow Eagle Brewery and Grill on River Parkway (one block off Lindsay Boulevard) right across the street from a linear park and the falls on the Snake River that Idaho Falls is named after. Snow Eagle Brewery and Grill has a nice pale ale among other beers brewed on site and good food in a cool brick building.
Chukars fans love their team and are proud of their ballpark, as they should be. The fans are supportive of their team, but also politely applauded good plays and a home run by the visiting Great Falls Voyagers at the game I attended in 2013. There is a no alcohol family section along the third baseline, but this hardly seemed necessary as no one was obnoxious or excessively rowdy.
Melaleuca Field has easy access from US Highway 20. Take Freemont Ave. and just follow the signs right to the stadium. Routes in all directions are also very walkable. If you're staying on motel row in the vicinity of Lindsay Boulevard and the weather is nice, take the 1.5 mile stroll through the park along the Snake River and the falls and cross the Broadway or US 20 bridge instead of driving. The walk back to the motel after the game is so pleasant with the river glistening in the moon light, and even though it was dark, Idaho Falls feels very safe. If you do choose to drive, there is plenty of parking in the lot adjacent to the stadium and also plenty of on-street spaces in the neighborhood. From what I could see, parking is free.
Restrooms and concessions stands are behind and underneath the grandstand. The restrooms are spacious with no lines and the walking areas and concourses are easy to navigate.
Tickets are $10 for reserved seats (individual chairs), $7 for general admission (metal bleachers with backs), and $5 for seniors and children. Food prices are not cheap, but not unreasonable. It pays to follow the Chukars on Twitter and Facebook as they regularly announce deals and giveaways prior to the game. For example, an upcoming Tuesday night game was $1 hot dog night. I would have put a hurting on them if I could have been there for that!
For most of the players, the Pioneer League is their first level of professional ball, so they're not as polished as the higher levels of minor league baseball or the majors of course, but sometimes that is half the fun. They do play hard and every now and then, a future Hall of Famer, like George Brett, comes through the league.
If you're in Idaho Falls on a nice summer evening, a Chukars game is a great way to spend a few hours.
The garbage guy: A couple of times during the game, a stadium employee came by with a big garbage bag and collected everybody's empty cups, cardboard, wrappers, etc. I've never seen this done at a stadium. It's a good idea. On a windy day it must help keep the debris from blowing all over the neighborhood.
No humidity: This is probably the case with all the Pioneer League venues which are located in the Intermountain West. When we arrived in Idaho Falls in the late afternoon, temperatures were in the mid-nineties. But as the sun set in the early innings, the temperatures dropped into the 70's and it was very comfortable without a hint of sweat inducing humidity.
Club history display: Behind the main grandstand there is a big display with a brief history of the club. This was an especially helpful source for this review and gave a great perspective on the franchise.
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