The Idaho Falls Chukars announced their coaching staff on Monday, taking the first step in the team’s new venture as a member of the MLB Partner League.
Billy Gardner is the Chukars’ new manager after spending 22 of the past 25 years as a minor league manager in the Red Sox, Royals, Reds, Rays and Nationals organizations.
Joining Gardner is Bob Milacki as pitching coach and Billy Butler as the team’s hitting coach.
Butler played for the Chukars in 2004 and played 10 seasons in the major leagues, earning a Silver Slugger Award and an All-Star appearance in 2012 with the Royals.
Milacki has been a minor league coach since 2001 in the Rangers, Pirates, Phillies, Nationals and Brewers organizations.
Even without the longtime affiliation with Minor League Baseball, general manager Kevin Greene reiterated that the mission of the Chukars remains player development. With the Pioneer League now a Partner League, the Chukars are responsible for signing their own players and coaching staff.
Gardner said the process for putting together a roster has already begun and potential players are being evaluated. The system is a bit different than in the past when the Royals organization would send players and a coaching staff to the Chukars for the summer.
Greene said the team is looking for players with three years or less of professional experience.
“They should be coachable, but what we’re going to do is put in place a good environment for the players to work and play in … I want my players to look forward to coming to the field every day when they get up in the morning and so that’s one of my goals,” Gardner said.
The Chukars won the Pioneer League title in 2019, but were shut down last season when the minor leagues canceled the season due to COVID-19 concerns. The Chukars were also on the chopping block under MLB’s new restructuring plan, but survived, along with the Pioneer League, to be named as a Partner League member.
After a year without baseball, Greene said the organization is busy with sponsors and ticketing for the upcoming season, which will feature 48 home games.
“I’m just really excited to throw a baseball around and put a uniform on,” Milacki said via video conference call. “It’s probably the first time I’ve had a jersey on in over a year. I’m pretty excited about getting things going.”
Opening day is May 22 against Billings.
Notes: Greene said the Chukars may play a couple of exhibition games with Boise and Ogden before the regular season starts … The annual fundraiser game with the American Legion Bandits is off this year because of the Bandits’ schedule … With the expanded Chukars’ schedule, high school teams will be able to play at Melaleuca Field during the regular season and districts, but the stadium will not host any state tournaments.