On the Road: Idaho Falls' 'Mother Chukar'

From Waylon to Willie, broadcaster John Balginy has seen it all

John Balginy (inset) has called Idaho Falls baseball games since 1985. Prior to the 2004 season, he came up with the "Chukars" name.

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | July 14, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Without broadcaster John Balginy, the Idaho Falls Chukars simply wouldn't be the Idaho Falls Chukars.

Balginy, now in his 33rd season with the club, is the man behind the team's moniker. The Pioneer League franchise, founded in 1940 as the Idaho Falls Russets, was named the Padres from 2000 through 2003. Idaho Falls switched its affiliation from San Diego to Kansas City following that 2003 campaign, at which point a "Name the Team" contest was held. 

"The contest was citywide, and there were some wretched names," said Balginy, speaking from his Melaleuca Field broadcast booth prior to a Chukars game last month. "And Kevin Greene, our GM, he goes, 'I just want something unique.' So I start thinking, maybe something like the Toledo Mud Hens. And when I lived in Kansas, I remember that my dad used to go chukar hunting all the time.

"And you call a pitcher a 'chucker.' So I told Kevin, 'How about the Chukars? It's a bird that lives in the area and it's also a slang for a pitcher.' He goes, 'OK' -- and that day we named the team. So it's going to be on my headstone: The Mother Chukar."

Balginy won't take credit for what happened on Opening Day 2004, however. Real-live chukars, members of the pheasant family of birds, were released on the field.

"All they did was run around," he said. "Some chukar farmer from out in the country had brought some in, and they couldn't gather them up. It was a mess."

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Balginy moved to Idaho Falls after he landed a job as a radio DJ. He's still in this line of work, hosting a morning show on the country station 99 KUPI and an afternoon slot on rock station Arrow 107. He began calling games for the Chukars in 1985, a gig that allowed him to further his lifelong association with Minor League Baseball.

"I grew up in El Paso, and I was a batboy for the El Paso Sun Kings in the Texas League," he said. "Like, the mid-'60s. And then I was a clubhouse boy in El Paso. And my dad was a trainer for the Albuquerque Dodgers for three years in the late '60s and early '70s when they had [Steve] Garvey and [Ron] Cey and all those guys. I've been around baseball my whole life."

In recent years, Balginy has been partnered with younger broadcasters at the start of their careers; this season, he's working with 2017 Syracuse University graduate Logan Ratick. But the first 25 years of his tenure with the team were spent with Idaho Falls broadcasting legend Jim Garchow, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 72. The broadcast booth is now named in honor of Garchow, while the Chukars' home of Melaleuca Field is located on "Jim Garchow Way."

2017 Road Trip

"He was a professional in every sense of the word," said Balginy. "Just a great guy and a great broadcaster. I always thought he sounded like Vin Scully, but he was a Tigers fan so he'd go 'No, no, no, no. Not Vin Scully. Ernie Harwell.'"

Garchow also had deep roots in the radio industry, which sometimes led to some interesting visitors in the broadcast booth.

"Waylon Jennings was a personal friend of Jim Garchow," said Balginy. "Jim got Waylon a job as a DJ in Arizona, before Waylon ever made it in music. A couple of times Waylon would come in the summer and he'd sit in the booth with us. I don't think he knew much about baseball, but it was just fun to BS with him."

In addition to Waylon, Garchow and Balginy also spent time with Willie. This particular Willie was not Waylon's redheaded compatriot on the country music scene, however.

"We had Willie Stargell in the booth one time," said Balginy. "It was at the old ballpark [McDermott Field, which hosted the Chukars through the 2006 season]. The press box was little, and Willie Stargell wanted a recliner up there. So we brought one up, and he sat back and enjoyed the game. He was a great guy, too."

Given his long broadcasting tenure and well-earned status as Idaho Falls' "Mother Chukar," might Balginy be tempted to ask for his own press box recliner one day?

"No, I don't think so," he said with a laugh. "But I've got my TV and my refrigerator so I'm good to go. Yeah, I'm not going anywhere. I'll do this as long as I can."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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