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Saskatoon Berries ready to write some history as part of inaugural WCBL season

Click to play video: 'Inaugural season set to begin on the diamond for WCBL’s Saskatoon Berries'
Inaugural season set to begin on the diamond for WCBL’s Saskatoon Berries
WATCH: Ten years after WCBL baseball was last played by a Saskatoon-based club, the expansion Saskatoon Berries are ready for opening pitch of their inaugural season – May 24, 2024

Baseball has taken Saskatoon’s Nolan Sparks all over North America, from Saskatchewan to stops in British Columbia, Texas and most recently Yavapai College in Arizona.

It’s been a hectic four years since graduating from St. Joseph High School, a path which has led the outfielder right back to his hometown.

“I’ve moved across the U.S. and Canada to play baseball,” said Sparks. “So it just means a lot to be at home and play in front of my family and friends again.”

Sparks has returned to a familiar ballpark at Cairns Field as part of the inaugural roster for the Saskatoon Berries who will get their first Western Canadian Baseball League season underway on Saturday evening in Regina.

Announced as a WCBL expansion team in March of last year, the buzz around the team has been steadily building in the community in which Sparks first cut his teeth.

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“The most Berries hats I’ve ever seen was at the Blades game the other day,” said Sparks. “I was at Game 5 against Moose Jaw there and I saw probably 300, 400 Berries hats around town. It just means a lot and I’m excited for the city, excited for all of the players as well.”

Berries players first arrived this week for their first three practices as a group, ahead of their first series against the Regina Red Sox.

Fellow Saskatoon product Cory Wouters will be bouncing between first base and the pitcher’s mound this year in front of plenty of supporters, with the Berries confirming they’re down to standing room only tickets for their home opener on May 28.

“It’s really exciting to see everybody supporting us,” said Wouters. “It’s almost nerve-wracking though because it’s a big group of people.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon Berries give behind-the-scenes look at renovated Cairns Field'
Saskatoon Berries give behind-the-scenes look at renovated Cairns Field

The Berries will have a Saskatchewan flavour in their first year of WCBL action, with eight players on their roster holding roots in the province.

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Carnduff’s Carter Beck will be patrolling the outfield and is confident the buzz surrounding the team will be sustainable throughout the team’s first season playing together.

“I know sometimes it might get thrown on the backburner to hockey,” said Beck. “But there’s a lot of people out in Saskatchewan who love baseball and it’s really good for the community.”

The Berries will follow in the footsteps of the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets before them, who competed in the then-called Western Major Baseball League between 2002 and 2014.

However, constant regular-season futility and dwindling attendance saw the Yellow Jackets fold operations following the 2014 season which came as a blow to young fans at the time such as Sparks.

“I grew up going to the Yellow Jackets games and taking that all in idolizing those players,” said Sparks. “So hopefully we can be role models for the kids in the community and do our best to win as many ball games as we can.”

The rebirth of WCBL baseball in the city is being backed by the Sask Entertainment Group and the Priestner family, who own both the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades and National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush along with the Berries.

According to head coach Joe Carnahan, the legacy of the Yellow Jackets is now coming full circle with a roster full of athletes who are aiming to inspire the next generation of young baseball players in the city.

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“When they were a lot younger they came and watched the college guys at that time,” said Carnahan. “Now for them to actually be here, be able to play at home and represent their city is something that they’re very excited for.”

“All of the guys in there are excited for this opportunity to build something from the ground up and kind of put their footprint on it right away.”

While Carnahan will be in the Saskatoon dugout for the first time this year, he comes to the team with decades of experience in the WCBL with the Swift Current 57’s winning multiple championships as both a player and manager.

On the eve of the Berries’ first game in franchise history, Carnahan is expecting the organization to tap into the community support that has helped raise their profile before they’ve even stepped into the box.

“It will be something for our guys to make sure we connect with those younger players,” said Carnahan. “Make sure we go out with them as far as in their practices, games and all of that stuff. Just be good community members.”

Earlier this month, the Berries announced a partnership with Baseball Saskatoon to become the presenting sponsor of the U7 and U9 divisions in the city while donating funds from their game-day 50/50 draws back into the community organization.

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Taking on the Red Sox as part of their first series in franchise history, Wouters is hopeful that a natural rivalry will begin between the Highway 11 opponents.

“Being close to them it’s going to be a short trip,” said Wouters. “There’s going to be people from everywhere coming out to watch it. Regina coming here, Saskatoon people going there, so it’s going to be fun.”

The Berries are still waiting for the full roster to be rounded out with several players still with their collegiate teams in playoffs, however a handful of imports from the United States have already made their way up and will be in the lineup this weekend.

The Berries’ Saskatchewan contingent is expected to introduce the Americans to life in the Saskatoon-Regina rivalry.

“I hope there’s a little bit of a rivalry going there,” said Beck. “I know some guys won’t have any idea about the Saskatoon-Regina [rivalry], but I hope we can get a pretty good rivalry going against Regina.”

Opening pitch on the first game in Berries history is set for 7:00 pm on Saturday night at Currie Field in Regina, with Saskatoon’s home opener set for 7:00 pm on Tuesday night against the Red Sox at Cairns Field.

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