Fans who left Melaleuca Field early on Tuesday missed out on the “game of the year,” as one fan said during the game.

In the Idaho Falls Chukars’ season opener, a home game against the Missoula PaddleHeads, they went up 3-0 in the first inning. The PaddleHeads responded with a run in the second, but there would be no more action until the seventh inning.

The chilly temperature and moderate breeze seemed to get to the fans once it got dark outside. That combined with four consecutive action-less innings drove all but the faithful Chukars fans out of the building.

Rule number one in sports fandom is to never leave early. That rang true on Monday.

The PaddleHeads started their comeback at the top of the eighth with a 5-1 deficit to overcome after the Chukars added a pair of runs in the seventh. They put two runs on the board, pulling within two runs of their opponents, but Brett Barrera answered with a run of his own in the same inning.

6-3 Chukars, top of the ninth. If the PaddleHeads were going to pull it off, this was their last chance.

Jaylon Lee hit a single early in the inning and advanced to second when Mike Rosario got a walk. With a deficit of three and two outs on the board, Kamron Willman stepped up to the plate and fired it over the wall, bringing himself and his two teammates home.

Tied game.

As the crowd debated braving the cold for extra innings against going home to a mug of hot cocoa and a warm bed, Chukars Assistant General Manager Chris Hall stepped onto the field with a microphone to explain that in the Pioneer Baseball League, they don’t do extra innings. They do a home run derby instead.

Home run derby rules are simple: A batter steps up to the plate with a teammate lobbing him soft pitches. He has two minutes to hit as many home runs as he can. His turn is over when either the clock runs out or he misses five times. Then, a batter from the other team does the same thing and whoever scores more homers wins. If they’re tied, they repeat the process with another round of batters.

The teams each hit one home run in the first round, but when the PaddleHeads scored two in the second, the pressure was on.

Chris Monroe stepped up for the Chukars, missing three times before hitting the scoreboard with a blast. In a do-or-die situation, he couldn’t afford to hit everything coming his way. He was allotted two minutes and he was determined to use them.

As time winded down, Monroe still hadn’t swung at virtually anything. With five seconds left on the clock, he took a desperation swing at an imperfect pitch and launched it over the boards, forcing an extra round.

“The greatest moment in sports,” mused one fan, perhaps a little ambitiously, in the moment.

The PaddleHeads wouldn’t score in the third round, but Chukars first baseman Trevor Rogers would, sealing the home opener for his team at a score of 7-6.

An eruption surged from the few hundred people left in the stands as the Chukars charged onto the field. Monroe and Bryant Bagshaw snuck up on Rogers and dumped the Gatorade jug on him. It was a scene straight out of an unrealistic movie.

The Idaho Falls Chukars rushed the field after beating the Missoula PaddleHeads in a home run derby on Tuesday night.

The Idaho Falls Chukars rushed the field after beating the Missoula PaddleHeads in a home run derby on Tuesday night. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

This was the first of five games on consecutive days for these two teams. Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m., while all the others are at 7:05 p.m.

Tickets are available online and at the box office. Games can also be streamed on FloBaseball.TV.