A welcome addition to the city of Idaho Falls, Melaleuca Field has been entertaining fans with exciting baseball-while also hosting other community events-since its grand opening in 2007. However, Idaho Falls' obsession with America's pastime goes back a lot further than that.
In the late 19th century, long before Idaho Falls even became a city, local settlers were playing baseball along the banks of the Snake River. Coinciding with the creation of the first city park in Idaho Falls, the first ball diamond was scratched into the dirt of a beet field in 1919. Professional baseball came to Idaho Falls in 1926, and play-for-pay clubs occasionally saw action here until the conclusion of World War II in 1945. The town has fielded a pro team ever since.
Over the years, Idaho Falls baseball has been affiliated with 11 Major League Baseball clubs: the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago White Sox, the California Angels, the Oakland Athletics, the Atlanta Braves, the San Diego Padres and the Kansas City Royals.
It was in 2004 when the Kansas City Royals came to town and the team became known as the Chukars, an affiliation that stands today. Shortly thereafter, the team's owner determined that the home of Idaho Falls baseball, McDermott Field, was long overdue for an upgrade. McDermott Field had served fans and players well, being home to the longest continual member of the Pioneer League. He met with the mayor and civic leaders to chart a path for financing the project.
In order to help finance a new stadium, the city of Idaho Falls turned to the community for fundraising. In a great show of support for the game and their hometown team, many individuals and businesses came through as expected. However, a steep and unexpected rise in construction costs found the organizers short and the professional club threatened to leave the area unless a new stadium was immediately constructed.
Past the deadline, they turned to Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot, CEO of the Idaho Falls-based health products company Melaleuca. Recognizing the positive impact baseball had on the town, Frank completed the fundraising effort by donating more than enough to finish the project. Following the 2006 season, McDermott Field was then demolished, making way for Idaho Falls' new ballpark.
Designed by architects Nielson Bodily & Associates and built by general contractors Bateman Hall, Inc.-both Idaho Falls firms-Melaleuca Field was completed entirely in the offseason to ensure the team wouldn't miss a single game.
Melaleuca Field, which features Kentucky bluegrass as its playing surface, has a standard seating capacity of 3,600 people. The grandstand includes 1,350 box seats, 1,459 bench seats with backs and eight luxury boxes. Group areas include a picnic area in front of the brick wall down the third-base line, picnic tables on a bleacher deck down the left-field line, and a larger party area down the right-field line.
In the summer of 2008, the year after the grand opening, editors of Ballpark Digest selected Melaleuca Field as America's Best Ballpark Renovation of 2007. The award recognized Melaleuca Field for its magnificent new grandstand, its extensive and beautiful brickwork and its warm, inviting and classic look. Spectators regularly say they're impressed by how cozy the ballpark is.
In 2015, Ballpark Digest recognized Melaleuca Field as the best Rookie-level ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball. Melaleuca Field was victorious by virtue of a national online fan vote, which shows the loyalty and passion the Chukars fans have for their team year after year.
Today, the Idaho Falls Chukars call Melaleuca Field home thanks to the generosity and support of hundreds of individuals and businesses. Those who donated have their names engraved on plaques and bricks built into the stadium, serving as a permanent reminder to the team and its fans that their community stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.
Although the ballpark continues to change, one thing remains the same: Idaho Falls loves baseball!
1919 - Idaho Falls sees its first baseball diamond
1926 - City gets its first professional baseball club: the Idaho Falls Spuds; first bleachers erected
1940 - Covered wooden grandstands erected at Highland Park; city becomes home to the Idaho Falls Russets of the Pioneer League
1943-45 - War effort suspends league play
1962 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Yankees
1964 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Angels
1975 - Highland Park grandstand burns down
1976 - New Stadium replaces old grandstand
1977- Stadium renamed McDermott Field
1982 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls A's
1985 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Nuggets
1986 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Braves
2000 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Padres
2004 - Team becomes the Idaho Falls Chukars
2006 - McDermott Field stadium demolished
2007 - Melaleuca Field stadium opens
- Left Field Line: 350 feet
- Left-Center Field: 410 feet
- Center Field: 390 feet
- Right-Center Field: 390 feet
- Right Field Line: 335 feet
Professional Outline - Idaho Falls Russets (1940-42, 1946-61), Idaho Falls Yankees (1962-63), Idaho Falls Angels (1964-81), Idaho Falls A's (1982-84), Idaho Falls Eagles (1985), Idaho Falls Braves (1986-91, 1993-99), Idaho Falls Gems (1992), Idaho Falls Padres (2000-04), Idaho Falls Chukars (2005-present)
For more information, check out the Melaleuca Field website and the history of baseball in Idaho Falls.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.