Ripe for watchin’: Saskatoon Berries bring collegiate-level baseball back to Saskatoon

Joe Carnahan is the head coach for the Saskatoon Berries, the first collegiate-level baseball team in Saskatoon since 2014. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Don Rice

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Saskatoon Berries are about to be in season at Cairns Field in the NexGen Patch.

After what’s been a very, berry long absence of collegiate-level baseball in Saskatoon, the Berries — the newest expansion Western Canadian Baseball League franchise — are set to become the first Saskatoon-based team since the Yellow Jackets folded in 2014.

“Saskatoon is such a sports city and such a nice city,” said Saskatoon Berries head coach Joe Carnahan.

“To be able to have a small part in bringing baseball at the collegiate level back to the city, it’s a great opportunity that I’m excited for. It definitely was a void in the league that was noticed by everybody. To have a team here in Saskatoon is a no-brainer. For the group that’s running it, it’s going to be well run and it’s going to be good for fans.”

For anyone counting, it will be 3,587 days between the last Yellow Jackets game on July 30, 2014 and the first for the Berries when they open their season on Saturday in Regina against their new provincial rival Red Sox. Then local fans will only have three more days to wait for their home-opener on Tuesday, May 28.

“I’m excited with the group of guys that we have coming up and looking for a fun summer,” said Carnahan, who moved his family to Saskatoon last August. “It feels good just being able to (start) a program from the ground up.”

Carnahan has a proven track record as a longtime player and manager for the Swift Current 57s in the same league. He twice was named league MVP and twice playoff MVP while celebrating three championships as a player. As manager for 12 seasons, he led his team to three more league titles while earning four manager of the year awards. He left the 57s in 2020 and rejoined the league in 2023 when he was recruited as the first Berries manager.

The Berries will face four provincial rivals plus seven Alberta-based teams in the 12-team league. Saskatchewan teams include Regina, Swift Current, Moose Jaw Millar Express and the Weyburn Beavers. Saskatoon will feature a roster that includes local players and others from across North America.

“I’m excited about all our guys,” said Carnahan, who coached his son’s minor baseball team during his time away from the WCBL.

“As far as local talent goes, we have some guys who had some pretty special years at school. Payton McHarg had a great year down at Washburn. Cory Wouters had a great year, as well as Nolan Sparks. And there’s also some other guys who maybe aren’t from Saskatoon but also have had good years that we’re looking forward to coming up as well.”

McHarg, an outfielder who graduated from Saskatoon St. Joseph Collegiate, batted .362 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs this year for the Washburn University Ichabods in Topeka, Kansas. His 21 HRs are the third-most in a single season in Washburn school history.

Wouters is a lefty-throwing, righty-hitting first baseman and pitcher for the McCook Community College Indians in McCook, Nebraska. The Aden Bowman grad was named his region’s rookie of the year, hitting .416 with 9 HRs and 44 runs batted in. He had 69 strikeouts in 41 innings with a 3-7 record on the mound.

Sparks played for the Roughriders, but not the Saskatchewan Roughriders; he shone for the Yavapai College Roughriders baseball team in Prescott, Arizona. The St. Joseph product batted .379 this year with 24 runs and seven stolen bases.

A trio of Saskatoon pitchers are also a part of the roster, including 23-year-old Ryan Olchoway of the University of Ottawa and pitcher Colin Plain of the College of the Desert Roadrunners in Palm Desert, Calif. Carter Kopp joins the Berries from Saint Xavier University in Chicago. Clavet’s Oakland Flodell, a utility player from Arizona Western Junior College in Yuma AZ, was also added to the team. Another Saskatchewan player is Carnduff outfielder Carter Beck, who played for the University of Mary Marauders in Bismarck, N.D., and was named his league’s freshman of the year.

Baseball fans can also expect to see some ballpark improvements at the newly renamed and renovated NexGen Patch at Cairns Field after NexGen Energy secured title naming rights.

Adjustments are still being made to an infield that was redone last fall. The Berries have new batting cages to work with; other Saskatoon minor baseball teams are beneficiaries of the cages as well. And two new large decks for fans are being installed down the third base line. One will be used for general admission and the other as a corporate and VIP deck.

“The decks look nice,” said Carnahan, who used to play and coach for the 57s in the same stadium against the Yellow Jackets. “They’re just getting completed here and numerous other things too. It’s been quite the makeover of Cairn’s Field and it should be exciting not only for the players but also for the fans.”

Some Berries future players are still finishing playoff runs at their respective schools, so the team is targeting the second week of June before having its full team assembled in Saskatoon.

The team’s practices are being held this week. Ticket sales have been brisk for their home-opener on May 28 at 7 p.m.

Saskatoon Entertainment Group founded the Saskatoon Berries expansion team in 2023, with plans to start play this year. Under Mike and Colin Priestner, SEG also owns the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League and the National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush.