There was no such thing as pro baseball when poet Thomas Haynes Bayly wrote “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” back in 1844.
But we all know what he was talking about.
Any baseball romantic who has ever suffered through the Idaho winter offseason gets what Bayly was driving at.
The most recent Idaho Falls Chukars offseason took this sentiment to a new level or two — setting up a long-long-awaited home opener Saturday night.
The 600-plus day offseason had its share of twists and turns, ups and downs.
On the upside, the Chukars got an extra year of bragging rights, owning the title “Defending Pioneer League Champions” since taking the 2019 title.
On the downside, the team’s defense of that title was delayed, due to the cancellation of the entire 2020 season.
Also during the long offseason, the Pioneer League’s status changed from a funded minor league affiliate to that of a “MLB Partner” league.
Despite all the changes on the business side, the look and feel of Opening Night was warmly familiar Saturday night.
The stands were still pulsing with happy fans of the great American pastime.
The concessions were still pumping out sweating hot dogs and dangerously oversized nachos.
And when the time came in the middle of the 7th inning, those same happy fans stood and paid homage to peanuts, Cracker Jacks and the home team.
Perhaps no one in town was more pleased with the opening night energy than Kevin Greene, general manager of the Idaho Falls franchise since 1993.
Greene, who was inducted into the Chukars’ Hall of Fame prior to the game, faced a unique set of organizational and business challenges during the extended offseason – but came out the other side smiling.
“We didn’t even find out until December what our role would be, and it’s been tough, but everything’s worked out,” Greene said. “We’re excited to have baseball back and to see things getting back to normal.”
Long-time fan Joy Storer of Idaho Falls was all smiles walking through the front gates Saturday alongside with husband and two grandchildren.
Storer arrived more than an hour early for the season opener, and nearly two years of Chukars’ baseball absence has certainly made her heart grow fonder.
“We’re excited to get out, meet the team, and have a fun family night watching baseball,” she said.
The Chukars won their opener 17-11 and will don their Idaho Falls Madres alter-ego uniforms for Sunday’s 4 p.m. game (weather permitting) against the Mustangs, which is the second game of a 3-game homestand.