By IAN WILSON
Saskatoon will soon welcome the return of the Western Canadian Baseball League to Saskatchewan’s largest city.
The WCBL and the Sask Entertainment Group (SEG) announced the new franchise – which currently goes by the name Saskatoon Baseball Club – will join the summer collegiate league for the 2024 season.
With the return of high-calibre baseball to the city, which has a metro population of over 317,000 people, SEG expands its sports footprint in the region. The group also owns the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League (NLL).
We caught up with Steve Hildebrand – president of the Saskatoon Baseball Club and senior vice-president of Sask Entertainment Group – to chat about the new baseball enterprise.
Here’s our question-and-answer session with him:
Q: What was the appeal for you of bringing a WCBL team to Saskatoon?
A: We believe it’s been too long since Saskatoon has had a WCBL team. We feel it’s super important for the baseball community and the City of Saskatoon to have somewhere to go on a beautiful summer evening.
Q: What impact do you want to have on the community and can you share some of the goals you have set for the franchise?
A: As we do with the Saskatoon Blades and Saskatchewan Rush, community will be front of mind. Our organizations have been community leaders and we will continue to do so.
Our first goal was to secure a franchise. We will now look to create manageable goals. We want to create a fun atmosphere at the ballpark where there is something for everyone, a place where people can watch a high level of baseball.
In terms of players, our goal is to have a local flavour to the team, but we want to stress we are going to try and recruit the top players and be competitive right out of the gates.
Q: The Saskatoon Yellow Jackets played in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL), the predecessor of the WCBL, from 2002 to 2014. Why do you think Saskatoon is a good fit for the WCBL and why join the league now?
A: I believe that this is a key market for the WCBL and am glad we could bring it back. This has been a missing piece of the Saskatoon baseball community ever since the Yellow Jackets left. I think it will be a great summertime event for businesses and community alike.
Q: What are some of the pieces you have to put in place before you join the league?
A: We will be joining the league in the summer of 2024. Our goal is to get our team name and colours, along with our head coach, by early summer of 2023. We have been working on our coaching staff already … we have no team name or logo yet but we are going to involve the public with this process.
Q: Where will be home for the ball club?
A: We will be playing out of Cairns Field, which can hold around 2,200 people. Cairns just recently went through some renovations, but we will also be doing some upgrades and some special areas to help the fan experience. This will be announced at a later date.
Q: Is there any information about tickets, merchandise or concessions at this time?
A: We are still working on ticket prices but will be investing into concessions and making it a fan-friendly place to be. September of 2022 saw the Blades and Rush open a new retail outlet in Saskatoon: the FEZ (Fan Experience Zone). Our ticket office is also located in this building on Faithfull Avenue. All Saskatoon baseball club tickets and merchandise would be sold out of here.
Q: Is there anything you can share about the process of joining the WCBL and the discussions involved in bringing a team to Saskatoon?
A: For us at Sask Entertainment Group, we wanted to keep investing into the community. With the support of our owners, Mike and Colin Priestner, we wanted to be a part of the WCBL. The WCBL has a great history and we felt that this would be a great summertime endeavor for our organization. I started a conversation with (Swift Current 57’s President) Brad Woods last fall and asked him what it would take to join the league. From there I had multiple talks with the expansion committee, and all were very accommodating. The process was very smooth, and we appreciate all the teams that have welcomed us in.
Most importantly the two gentlemen from the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, Bryan Kosteroski and Johnny Marciniuk, led the way in the lease talks. They worked very hard in helping us secure a 10-year lease with Cairns Field and should be commended for their vision and leadership.
Q: Is there a website that people can go to, or social media channels, for more information?
A: We will have socials up and running and are working diligently to get our website up and running, as well.