Chukars kick off 2014 tonight vs. Bandits

Last time out, Idaho Falls Bandits pitcher Joel Martin came within one pitch of shaming Zane Evans.

Evans, the 2013 fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Royals, had just signed a professional contract, moved to Idaho Falls and collected a $400,000 signing bonus.

His first work as a pro? Get a hit off some high school kid from the Idaho Falls Bandits American Legion team.

“The way it’s formatted, Chukars catchers get to hit against the Bandits’ pitchers, and (Martin) had two strikes on Evans,” Idaho Falls Chukars radio broadcaster Chris Lewis said. “It’s one of those rare situations where a Bandits pitcher has a chance to get bragging rights.”

Martin got two quick strikes on Evans, coming within a whisker of local baseball immortality against the former Georgia Tech star.

But there was no way on West Broadway Evans was going to absorb the slings and arrows of his new teammates, crushing a double to right center instead of becoming the target.

“That would have been the longest walk of shame ever,” Lewis said. “As a new player for (the Chukars), you’re meeting all your new teammates for the first time, and that would be the first thing they would know about you — struck out against a Legion player.”

The two teams meet again at 7:15 tonight, allowing fans of the Chukars to get a first look at the new talent, and fans of the Bandits to support American Legion Baseball with a clever, unique fundraiser.

The Chukars won both of the first two such exhibitions, taking the inaugural 2012 game 6-2 before winning the 2013 game 5-3.

Despite the losses, Bandits coach Joldy Watts notes the annual game tends to be the highlight of the season. More than that, it is a chance for everyone to celebrate the same game, getting their names in lights in front of the home fans.

“They eat it up,” Watts said of his players. “The majority of the fans there are there to see the Chukars, but this is our chance for our boys to showcase their talents. It’s a fantastic atmosphere, and it has gotten better every year.”

To make things somewhat balanced, and provide a chance for the newly-minted Chukars to get some meaningful work, the structure of the game has an interesting twist.

When the Bandits are batting, the pitcher and catcher will also be Bandits players. Chukars players will fill out the other seven fielding positions. The same will be true when the Chukars are batting, facing a professional battery with seven Bandits in the field.

The one caveat that sets up the classic Martin-Evans battle of 2013 is when the Chukars catcher bats every other inning, hitting for the Bandits against the Bandits.

“The way we approach it is to make sure everybody gets in and gets a chance to play in front of a big crowd, and hopefully get fans who have never seen us play come out to see what we have to offer,” Watts said.

First pitch will be delivered by local American Legion Commander and U.S. military veteran Bob Skinner.