Fox 9 Town Ball Tour: Chanhassen embraces amateur baseball

There are amateur baseball teams in small towns all across Minnesota, about 350 to be exact. In many cases, you don’t have to go very far outside the Twin Cities for a town ball game on a summer night.

That’s exactly the case in the southwest metro at Storm Red Birds Field. It’s been the home of the Chanhassen Red Birds since 2010. The field is just part of a complex that includes the Chanhassen High School softball field, located directly behind home plate, and the Chanhassen football field. The high school itself is also on the grounds, not far from the first base line.

The final week of the 2019 Fox 9 Town Ball Tour keeps us in the Twin Cities in Chanhassen, a city of a little more than 25,000 residents that can still embrace the small-town charm with its athletics.

The high school was approved to split off from its neighbor, Chaska, in 2006. The facility itself was built and running by 2009, and amateur baseball was soon to follow.

Chanhassen got its start in amateur baseball in 1947 as the Cardinals. Two years later, they were state champions. After about a 45-year absence, it was a community effort to bring baseball back to the town. The Red Birds were born, thanks to the work of co-managers Mike Ralston and Mike Arnold.

“We’re trying to hang onto the traditions that are a part of baseball, and we also want to show them a quality product on the field,” said Denny Laufenburger, who has been the voice of the Red Birds since 2010 and is a former mayor of Chanhassen. “We feel like we can make an impact in this community. The baseball and our ballgames become a community event.”

It also helps when the baseball team itself is pretty good, too. The Red Birds are off to a 17-3 start heading into Wednesday night’s game against perennial Class A power Minnetonka. Chanhassen is 5-1 in the East Division of the River Valley League.

The Red Birds’ league opponents include the Chaska Cubs, Eagan Bandits, Victoria Vics, Burnsville Bobcats, Prior Lake Jays and Shakopee Indians.

Storm Red Birds Field has become a fixture in Chanhassen. It hosts the Legion and amateur teams, and will serve as the Sub State Tournament host next weekend for Legion baseball. The field has also hosted three of the last eight Lions High School All-Star Baseball Tournaments, when Athletic Park in Chaska was unplayable due to spring flooding.

The local baseball community, park and recreation board and East Carver County School District came together to make the sport happen again in Chanhassen.

The Red Birds’ current roster features at least 11 players from the Chanhassen/Chaska area. The vision is that younger kids who come to the ballpark during the summer will someday don the Chanhassen jersey.

“There are 11 guys that call this school district their home so that’s a wonderful way to draw people in the community to the games. We’ve got kids that come here in uniform and they come here because they want to watch the kids play, because maybe someday, they’ll be a Chanhassen Red Bird,” Laufenburger said.

That vision came with a lot of hard work and sweat equity. The hope, now that the foundation has been built, is that the tradition sticks for generations to come.

“One of our goals was to put an affordable, talented team on the field that people in Chanhassen for $5 or $4 would love to come and see it. They would love to spend a family night here, they can get a cheap beverage, they can get a great Ken burger on the grill and this is the way they want to spend their summer,” Ralston said.

For Laufenburger, it’s not even a second thought to be at the ballpark on a summer night in Chanhassen. He grew up around the game, but ironically, had never been a public address announcer until he got started with the Red Birds.

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from baseball,” Laufenburger said. “The tip that I got was just make the experience for the fans what you enjoy. For me, it’s the conversation that I have with the fans and that keeps me coming back.”

Don’t let the booming city of 25,000-plus that is Chanhassen fool you. The Chanhassen Red Birds and their classic town ball stadium give the small-town feel right in the heart of the Twin Cities metro.

Make no mistake about it, the Red Birds have fun and they play to win.

“We talk about two things here. We talk about respect the game, play for those that can’t play anymore and play it hard,” Ralston said. “We’ve got fans from the Red Birds in the 50s that are sitting here watching. Respect the game, play it hard and respect your teammates. It’s not about you, it’s about what you can do for them. So that’s kind of our recipe.”

They’re the defending Class B champions, so it’s safe to say that’s a good recipe.