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Baseball looks to be coming back from extended hiatus in east Idaho

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Photo courtesy Gate City Grays Facebook

POCATELLO — Gate City Grays co-owner Terry Fredrickson spent much of last summer reminiscing.

When he wasn’t sitting alone in an abandoned Halliwell Park gazing at an empty diamond, a la Kevin Costner in the classic “Field of Dreams,” he was sitting at the dinner table with wife and fellow co-owner Erica, talking about baseball games past.

“It was a tough summer,” Fredrickson told EastIdahoNews.com. “I really had a tough time last year not having baseball.”

But after a long, mostly baseball-less 2020, Fredrickson is happy that baseball will be back in Pocatello this summer. Barring a disastrous turn of events, at least.

Fredrickson expects the Grays, who have won three of the last five Northern Utah League championships, to be back in action in mid-May. The particulars have yet to be determined. There is no certain opening day. And home fan attendance limitations will be determined, in partnership with the city and Southeastern Idaho Public Health, at a date closer to the first game.

Particulars aside though, the lifelong baseball fan and team owner since 2014 is excited to bring America’s game back to a city in which it is so deeply engrained.

“Pocatello is a baseball town,” Fredrickson said. “We’ve had Babe Ruth swing the bat here, he stopped on the train and took batting practice in this town; Satchel Paige pitched here; Jackie Robinson swung the wood here.”

But it’s not all positives.

The Grays may have a difficult time fielding a full roster given the limited amount of games over the last 10 months. Normally, the end of February and the beginning of March means a scouting trip to “Swing into Spring,” an annual collegiate baseball tournament in Mesquite, Nevada. That is where Garden City fills its roster.

Since that isn’t happening, Fredrickson and the Grays may be forced to get a little creative this year.

“The thing, I think, that we’re going to end up doing — in a way, I’m excited about it, and in a way, I’m not excited about it — I think we’re going to have a big try-out day,” Fredrickson said. “As of right now, I think that’s going to be the only way we’re going to fill some spots.

“I think it’s going to be fun, to be honest,” he continued. “I mean, who knows what shows up at an open try-out.”

Difficulties felt within the organization should not be felt by fans, however. Those interested in catching a Grays game can expect the same experience they have enjoyed in the past, including the same $5 general admission tickets.

“Baseball is about community,” Fredrickson said. “We have open tickets, we don’t have any designated seating, we believe that the richest person can sit next to the poorest person in Pocatello and it doesn’t matter because you’re there to watch baseball, you’re not there because of status.”

Idaho Falls Chukars

Things are a little different 45 minutes north.

As with the Grays, attendance limitations will be determined as the season approaches. The 2019 Pioneer League champion Idaho Falls Chukars have a schedule in place and opening day is set for Saturday, May 22.

“We’ll just have to wait to see what the guidelines look like come mid-May,” Chukars General Manager Kevin Greene told EastIdahoNews.com. “If we can operate at something near capacity we’ll have a huge season — people missed baseball last year.”

Photo courtesy Idaho Falls Chukars Facebook

Chukars fans may also be excited to hear that they will get 10 additional chances to see their ball club in person.

In years past, the Chukars played a standard Minor League Baseball season, consisting of 76 games. But following Major League Baseball’s affiliation realignment, the Chukars have been removed from their rookie league affiliation with the Kansas City Royals, and the guidelines that affiliation entails.

That means, among other things, a 96-game schedule.

Chukars might be cut from minor league in 2021

Now an independent league team, similar to the Grays, the Chukars must fill their own roster and hire their own coaches — as opposed to having them assigned by the Royals. This means that, in addition to handling the ballpark, Melaleuca Field, and the goings-on within, Greene and the Idaho Falls front office must bear the burden, and cost, on all ends of the organization.

“We’re entering a whole new area in the business of baseball that we’ve never really had to deal with,” Greene said.

But that burden will be shouldered by the club.

A decision by the Pioneer League to add 20 games to each team’s schedule means 10 more home games at each stadium, a 26% increase. But season ticket bundle prices increased just 10%, and in-stadium advertising will increase just 3%.

“We were kind of inline for some price increases anyway, increases that we hadn’t done in a while,” Greene said. “No one wants to be price-gouged, and we’re very sensitive with that, especially during COVID where, maybe, people aren’t making the money they were before.”

Aside from small cost increases and additional games, Greene assured fans will be treated to the same experience.

“The atmosphere will be the same,” Greene said. “Nothing is really going to change from a fan’s perspective.”

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