As the sun dipped beneath the billboards of Melaleuca Field on September 13, 2019, the Idaho Falls Chukars lost to the Ogden Raptors and officially ended their reign as official members of Minor League Baseball. Instead, they became another casualty caused by the massive contraction Minor League Baseball undertook in 2020.
The Chukars’ time in the Rookie Advanced North Division lasted from 1940 to 2020. It included affiliations with everyone from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Sacramento Solons to, most recently, the Kansas City Royals. Originally called McDermott Field, the Chukars’ home stadium often played host to baseball history with names like Jose Canseco, Billy Butler, and Jake Peavy donning the burgundy, silver, and black of the team early in their careers. Now, however, a new sort of history is being forged.
For all of the 2020 season, like hundreds of others across the country, the stadium sat empty for the first time since WWII. But unlike many other stadiums, as they re-open in May of 2021, Melaleuca Field will no longer host an official Minor League Team. The Chukars will once again take the field—but this time in the Pioneer League and without an MLB parent.
A Region Missing Minor League Baseball
As the south, the east, and the pacific coast welcome back their teams, the mountain west takes stock of its losses. The MLB axed every affiliated minor league team in Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. The Ogden Raptors, the final team the Idaho Falls Chukars played, are gone, too. Indeed, Utah, which used to host three teams, now retains only one: the AAA Salt Lake City Bees. In fact, the Bees are the only team left in the entire region. That means that now the closest stadium to them is 518 miles away in Reno, Nevada.
Of the 43 teams that lost MLB affiliation, 16% of them belonged to the mountain west. That’s an especially high number considering that the total number of teams in the region before the cut was only 11%. Now, it’s just 1.2%.
Perhaps independent leagues own the future of baseball in the rugged mountains and rocky valleys of the west. Or maybe after the impacts of COVID-19 die down and profit margins fatten again, the MLB will reclaim the territory it deserted.
Regardless, for the millions of baseball fans living west of the Mississippi and east of California, a great American tradition has faded from their view.
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