Saskatoon Berries impress, but fall short before sellout crowd in inaugural home-opener

Saskatoon Berries infielders McGwire Turner (5) and Landon Nunes (11) try to tag out Regina Red Sox's Alex Mendes as he slides back into second base during their Western Canadian Baseball League home opener at Cairns Field. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Don Rice

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Saskatoon Berries era got officially underway at home at the Cairns Field NexGen Patch with a swinging strike at exactly 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

A sold-out crowd of 2,200 witnessed Saskatoon product Ryan Olchoway deliver that first pitch in a thrilling moment for Saskatoon and for him.

“Ever since I found out I would get the home-opener start, I’ve been looking forward to this moment,” said Olchoway, who played for three years in high school on a slightly older version of this same field.

“I’ve been nervous, excited, every emotion you can think of. Being a Saskatoon kid playing at this field, five or six years ago, and now to be back playing summer ball, it’s a cool experience.”

Other Saskatoon products, also in the starting lineup in their hometown for the Berries, were right-fielder Payton McHarg, designated-hitter Cory Wouters and left-fielder Nolan Sparks. Carter Beck of Carnduff also started in center field, with Dundurn’s Oakland Flodell getting into the game as a pinch-runner.

Unfortunately for Saskatoon fans, the Regina Red Sox spoiled their home-opener, winning 8-4 in the Western Canadian Baseball League game. Despite the result, players and coaches were thrilled to see the crowd turnout for the first collegiate-level baseball game played in Saskatoon since the Yellow Jackets last played in town 10 years ago.

“The support that the city showed, and just the atmosphere throughout the field today, was awesome,” said Berries head coach Joe Carnahan.

“The guys really enjoyed and fed off it. Obviously I wish we had a better outcome at the end here. But as far as the atmosphere and the energy in the stands, it was great.”

Left-fielder and Saskatoon product Nolan Sparks said more than once, “It was amazing,” of the experience of playing in front of his home crowd. “I thought the crowd showed out well and everyone was super-excited and super into it. It’s just too bad we couldn’t get a win for the guys, but it was awesome.”

The Berries are in an early hole this season, falling to 0-3 after the loss. It was also their third straight loss to their provincial rival Red Sox after losing 5-4 on Saturday and 3-0 on Sunday in Regina. Carnahan sees some room for improvement, and patience.

“We just have to have better at bats, and we did throughout the end of this game,” said Carnahan, a four-time WCBL manager of the year.

“We’ve had some guys who’ve been off a little bit from school, so you can tell we’re missing fastballs a little bit. Our timing’s a little bit off. As far as the end of this game it was getting a little bit better finding barrels a little bit more. We have a good group of guys. We have a good roster. It’s just a matter of just putting it together.”

Olchoway also sees a host of potential around him.

“We have a ton of talent on this team that can do a lot of good things,” said Olchoway, who returned to Saskatoon from the Ottawa University Braves in Kansas. “We have a ton of depth, so anyone’s number can be called at any moment. We have a good chance of going far this year.”

Next home action for the Berries goes on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. with the Lethbridge Bulls visiting NexGen Patch at Cairns Field.