Chanhassen Red Birds Winning Games, Winning Fans

–by Jeff Barthel, MBA freelance writer

The Chanhassen Red Birds were founded in 2010 and joined the River Valley League as a C team. They were moved to Class B shortly before the 2015 season, and not without resistance. The Red Birds’ season ended quietly after receiving the No. 4 seed in the loaded Section 3B playoffs and after suffering 2-0 series sweep at the hands of the Victoria Vics.

Since then, however, the Red Birds have seemingly embraced the new designation and are more comfortable in their skin. Chan is 15-9 (4-2, Section 3B) this season and ranked ninth in the latest (July 6) Class B poll. The Red Birds have a talented young core, and it has not gone unnoticed.

But beyond the winning record and impressive ranking, one can get a deeper sense of what Red Birds Baseball is all about by taking in a game at its friendly home confines of Storm/Red Bird Stadium.

On the beautiful summer evening of June 29, Chanhassen defeated Dassel-Cokato 5-3 in a hard-fought game. While a win for the home team always helps, the appeal for many of the fans goes deeper.

Spectacular weather (low-80’s, sunshine, clear skies, low humidity) and the fact that it was Chanhassen City Employee Recognition Night at the team’s home ballpark were factors. Beyond that, however, the Red Birds offer a plethora of welcoming ballpark experiences and helpful staff that fans can enjoy on any given night.

For starters, how about the fact that the mayor of Chanhassen – a growing city with a population of about 25,000 people – serves as the stadium’s public address announcer?

Yes, that’s right. Chanhassen’s mayor, Denny Laufenburger, handles the PA duties for the Red Birds in the team’s press box. On this particular evening, you could find Mayor Laufenburger eating a dollar hot dog and describing it’s taste to fans between announcing batters walking up to the plate – all while making sure the scoreboard accurately reflected balls and strikes.

You could also find the mayor’s wife, Ruth, checking in and out of the booth, sitting by his side while he surveyed the action and repeatedly reminded kids about the 25 cents that could be had for each foul ball returned to the concession stand.

In fact, you could also have witnessed Laufenburger greeting parents with their children throughout breaks in the action. At least once an inning it seemed there was either a parent or a set of parents waiting to introduce their child to the mayor.

Back to those hot dogs. These are not your garden variety ballpark hot dogs – kept warm on a rotating heating rod and served after sitting in wrapped foil for who knows how long. No, these are freshly grilled hot dogs served with just the right amount of char. And who’s the man serving these up?

Meet Ken Strand: fifth-grade teacher at a school in Robbinsdale, and concessions operator/board member for the Red Birds.

Strand, intern Mikayla Kobilarcsik and other Red Birds helpers work as a team at the concession stand, known as The Birdfeeder. On one end, you can find Strand manning the grill while chatting about baseball, community and the nice weather with his hungry spectators. On the other end stands Kobilarcsik and others adorned in Red Birds gear, greeting customers and watching over the till.

At one point in the night, team general manager Terre Kemble stopped by to speak with Strand. In fact, Kemble could be seen just about everywhere around the grounds at Red Birds Stadium that Wednesday evening.

Kemble is not your typical GM. She doesn’t simply sit and watch her team play. If fact, I’m not sure she even sat at all that night – well, except for when she sat on her motorized cart during pregame warmups, toting supplies to the storage area, making the rounds to make sure everything is running smoothly. Heck, she even took a moment to offer a freelance writer she had just met minutes earlier one of Strand’s wonderfully-cooked hot dogs.

Kemble’s passion for baseball is beyond obvious. Donned in a comfortable tee, a pair of shorts and her Red Birds cap, Kemble spoke proudly of her upbringing – including growing up in Springfield, MA with a father who had professional baseball experience. She also highlighted her years playing softball and her passion for softball, baseball, and the community. Speak to Kemble for just a few minutes and it won’t take long to realize her sincerity regarding all of the above.

Upon arrival at Storm/Red Birds Stadium – Storm is the nickname for Chanhassen High School’s sports teams – you will arrive at the ticket gate. That’s where Steve Scharfenberg, another key component of the Red Birds ownership, can be found.

As the fourth Red Birds board member mentioned in this article – Laufenburger, Kemble and Strand being the other three – Scharfenberg greeted fans at the ticket gate (a basic chair, table and cash box), welcoming them to the park, thanking them for their presence and wishing them a pleasant night.

Later on, by around the seventh inning or so, one could find Scharfenberg having migrated to the souvenir sales area right next to The Birdfeeder. Here, he was handing out the last of 12 free t-shirts claimed by way of a live raffle conducted throughout the ballgame.

All in all, it was a tremendous evening and terrific night for baseball. Without a doubt, the winning effort put forth by the Red Birds on the field was fully matched by its army of supporters outside the lines.

PHOTO ALBUM: Dassel-Cokato Saints at Chanhassen Red Birds

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