Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, embarked on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he filed regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: Idaho Falls.
It started out as a terrific day. We were in a non-fleabag hotel in Boise, had woken up in time to get the free breakfast, went back to sleep (score!), took advantage of the cleanest pool we had seen since we’d been on the road, and played a vigorous game of Squish-Ball-and-Little-Mermaid-Boogie-Board-Baseball. We were feeling good as we set out toward Idaho Falls.
Except for the fact that the steering wheel on the “The Beast” (our 90’s era Dodge van) was pulling to the right. No big deal, I thought, must be out of alignment, I’ll get it fixed in one of the next towns we are in. Well, the pull got worse and worse, and soon there was vibration coming through the steering wheel. My trusty navigator looked up auto repair in Google Maps, and we were directed to Jack’s Tire & Oil in Twin Falls, Idaho.
We bumped and shuddered our way into the parking lot. The man there laid his hands on the wheels and told me that I had a tread separation in progress, and I could feel the tumor-like hump on the passenger side front tire. Yes, let’s replace both front tires, I said. We were in and out in less than 45 minutes, we avoided a potentially dangerous front tire blow out, and we were still on target to be in our seats in Idaho Falls for first pitch. We were still singing a happy tune — for about five minutes, at least.
We weren’t on the highway for five miles when we start getting rumbling from the back end, and before we could even get to the next exit, “BOOM,” the left rear blew out. Dang. We were on a busy stretch of interstate highway, with a narrow shoulder leading to a steep bank, so I did not like the idea of changing the tire so close to the road, particularly since I hadn’t ever changed a tire on this vehicle. I tried to limp down the shoulder a bit, but the van bucked so much and I was also worried about tearing up the rim, and maybe the transmission, so I pulled over as far as I could and, for the second time on this trip, called AAA.
After being told it would be a 45-minute wait, the wrecker showed up after about 30 minutes. OK, things are looking up. Until the tow truck driver asked me, “Do you have a jack?” Well, yes, but don’t you have one? His was broken. OK, so he used my jack, changed the tire, and then said, well, the spare is low on air, you shouldn’t drive it too far. Don’t you have compressed air on the truck? Well, yes, but the hose is broken. OK. He says, there’s your flat tire, want to stow it in the van? No, I don’t, it’s full of clothes, bedding, etc., and this blown tire has metal wires poking out of it and is filthy. After we stared at each other for an uncomfortably long time, he said, very reluctantly, OK, I’ll stow it, and he proceeded to put it up under the van where the spare tire goes.
We were finally on our way, but on a seriously underinflated spare that looked like it had last seen service in the Korean War. Ty and Google Maps again came to the rescue, as he directed me to a gas station in a little town a few miles off the freeway, after our tow truck driver had told us the nearest service station was up the highway about 20 miles.
After adding some air, we were really on our way, hoping to maybe catch the last half of the ballgame, if our decrepit spare tire holds up. We had a pizza in the van, a few drinks, and we figured maybe we’d salvage the day after all.
Home of the Chukars
The spare did get us to Idaho Falls, where we enjoyed about 4½ innings of exciting Pioneer League baseball, with the home team getting a solid win over the Great Falls Voyagers. The homestanding Idaho Falls Chukars included a couple players we knew from Burlington, which is also a Royals affiliate, and we thoroughly enjoyed being in the ballpark after the kind of day we had.
Melaleuca Field was a surprise; it’s a thoroughly modern, functional ballpark with lots of brick, open space for kids to play, and some interesting elements. My favorite was the open-air picnic area in front of the third base seats. It’s a premium place to watch the game for the picnic group, and the first base bleacher seats behind it are elevated to allow an unobstructed view. (Editor’s Note: We’ve honored Melaleuca Field several times in the past. Here’s a look at our visit when the ballpark opened, the ballpark won our Best of the Ballparks vote for rookie fields in 2015, and it won a citation for best renovation in our annual Ballpark Digest Awards in 2007.)
Opened in 2007, Melaleuca Field replaced McDermott Field, a simple concrete grandstand. The title sponsor, Melaleuca, is a wellness products company based in Idaho Falls. This is a ballpark that was built on a fairly modest budget, with aluminum decking instead of concrete, stone block instead of brick, and not much of a roof. But the stonework is red and has the feel of brick, there is nice wrought iron fencing around the park, and the luxury suites and press box have just enough overhang to give the grandstand a sheltered feeling. There is also lots of open space of the kids to play, nice wide concourses, and more.
In fact, this might have been one of the most family-friendly ballparks we saw, particularly as judged by the crowd. It was a Monday night, but there was a great crowd in the ballpark. Monday is apparently one of the Chukars’ bigger nights of the week, due in part to a large Mormon community that has a tradition of doing family activities on Mondays.
The game operation was smooth, with lots of concessions windows open, a big videoboard, and a nice walk-in souvenir stand with team offices overlooking them through a big picture window.
What’s a Chukar?
The team, a Kanasa City Royals affiliate, is named for a game bird that is originally from southwest Asia, but is now common in this part of Idaho. The name and logo are very distinct and the team’s merchandise was very reasonably priced.
This construction and operation of this comfortable, pleasant ballpark are the results of the determined efforts of long-time Idaho Falls GM Kevin Greene, and the community has responded to this terrific facility, which was honored by this website when it opened.
Put this one on your itinerary, it’s definitely worth a visit. A friendly, comfortable ballpark, surrounded by beautiful scenery, just be sure to check your tires before you head that way!