General Manager Chris Mundhenk’s carefully trimmed beard and hair are a bit more salt and pepper than they were 17 years ago when he began his Midland road trip-turned homestand with the Great Lakes Loons
Chris Mundhenk is the president and general manager of the Great Lakes Loons.
As he sorted through his memories here at Dow Diamond
on a sunny, windy March afternoon, the activities of the still-growing 2023 Loons staff swirled about, preparing for the new baseball season opener April 7 against the Lansing Lugnuts.
Boxes with new baseball uniforms sat stacked just behind the reception area. Job interviews were being conducted in adjacent offices. Pallet-sized stacks of the new, padded outfield wall were parked just outside the kids’ play area in the parking lot in right field, waiting to be uprighted to protect players in the warmer months.
Tickets were being sold in the offices next door and, in the Loon Loft, more boxes were cracked open and souvenirs of all types were being sorted and shelved. Upstairs in the concourse, a conference was taking place.
Marker commemorates the Dow 47 Building, now the site of Dow Diamond.
All this activity contributes to what is manufactured throughout the site, Mundhenk says, continuing a tradition that began here 130 years ago on a curve in the Tittabawassee River that once housed The Dow Chemical Co. 47 Building.
“We make memories,” Mundhenk reminds this writer. “Most people don’t think of us as a manufacturing plant, but we control the experience - the time and the value. And we’ve made a commitment to that experience.”
Combining that experience with baseball - the team is the High-A Midwest League representative of the Los Angeles Dodgers
- and using the profits to make grants to regional organizations - is a win-win situation for the Great Lakes Bay Region. In April of this year, the baseball organization’s foundation will announce more than $100,000 in 2023 grants, bringing the total to more than $1.4 million in grants since the foundation was organized.
While Loons management can’t control who is on the field, the Dodgers management has sent many memory makers over the years who have risen from the A and High A league levels to the upper echelons of Major League Baseball. Mundhenk noted there have been 97 former Loons who have spent time in the major leagues.
That list, of course, starts with three-time Cy Young award winner and four-time All Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, National League 2015 batting champ Dee Gordon, and last year’s Dodger ace, Julio Urias, who finished the 2022 season with 31 starts, a 17-7 won-loss record, and a 2.16 earned run average. He first pitched at the pro level at the age of 16 with the Loons.
Summer night scene at Dow Diamond.
What is known now is that returning April 7 is the festive atmosphere that has become a Loons trademark, one that Mundhenk attributes mainly to staff who want people to feel at home.
“That’s been our philosophy since day one, and the greatest credit goes to our game day staff who make people feel as if the stadium is an extension of home,” Mundhenk says.
That staff is substantial. As many as 250 people work to make the game day experience as eventful and exciting as possible, from the parking attendants to the ticket takers, the ushers, the souvenir sellers, the entertainment, the cleaning staff and security, among others.
Railing along the 1st baseline at Dow Diamond
He knows the feeling well, bringing his sports management credentials from previous roles as director of Promotions & New Business Development for the Altoona Curve (Double-A Affiliate, Pittsburgh Pirates) among others. Mundhenk has 21 years of experience in professional sports, with all but two being in Minor League Baseball. He joined the Loons in 2006 as the assistant GM of Marketing & Promotions and has held a number of leadership roles with the Loons, being named president and general manager going into the 2021 season.
Being one of the first hires, along with first president /general manager Paul Barbeau, Loons Chief Executive Officer Bill Stavropoulos charged them with helping develop an organization that stadium goers would enjoy again and again - state of the art, clean with great service, exciting, and always entertaining and giving back to the community.
And he said the resources and willingness of organizations to work together was unique. “Stavropoulos and the board truly believed that in leveraging the Loons organization they could benefit the community in a positive way,” Munkhenk says.
That creates memories big and small.
Longtime Midland sports fan Jack Starling thought so too in a big way. As a marketing manager for the Midland Daily News
at the time, he was on the frontlines as Dow CEO Stavropoulous lured the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays of Battle Creek to Midland.
He relates one of his first memories. “On a warm August Saturday afternoon, just behind the H Hotel down by the river, some 4,000 community and regional enthusiasts joined in welcoming our new best friend, Lou E. Loon , the team's mascot, to Midland. We were to be The Great Lakes Loons. We bought all the Loons paraphernalia we could get our hands on that day, we stayed and partied until the street lights came on. We didn’t want to go home.
“The team that Stavropoulos had assembled was made up of community leaders from Midland and the region. We all somehow knew that Bill would create a family experience that was second to none.”
Post-game fireworks are a big draw to Dow Diamond.
Memories can be more personal, too. Midland Business Alliance
President Tony Stamas snagged a foul ball.
“When our son was around 5, we attended a game and he was very interested in getting a foul ball. I figured that between the general odds of getting one and my athletic prowess (or lack thereof) it was unlikely,” he notes. ”However, early in a game, a foul ball came back into our section and hit the steps and bounced right to me. I gave it to my son who still has it over 10 years later.”
Mundhenk is enjoying a personal touch, too. Originally from Portsmouth,Ohio, Mundhenk’s family - his wife Nellie and daughter Tatum moved here 17 years ago. Last year, his brother Justin and his wife Samantha and son moved to Midland and just a week ago, his parents - Ken and Sharon - now call Midland home.
Mundhenk says the Loons team is in Arizona right now and it will be less than a week before the season opens that the region will know which players are heading north. It is expected that some of the players from last year’s team that finished second place with a 76-55 record and a playoff spot will return, Mundhenk says.
Meanwhile, Mundhenk says the weekday promotions throughout the year will return - Tuesday/ Hometown Heroes, Wednesday/Pets and Claws, Thirsty Thursdays, Feast Friday, Fireworks Spectacular after Memorial Day and Kids Eat Free Sundays. For details, see Daily Promotions | Loons (milb.com)
For all the background on the Loons, including schedule, special events and ticketing, go to Great Lakes Loons | MiLB.com