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Sask. major leaguer tossing out wisdom to Berries

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The pitching coach for the Saskatoon Berries is bringing a wealth of high-level experience back to the place he grew up — west-central Saskatchewan.

As an expansion team in the WCBL, the Berries are fortunate to have a first-class coaching staff.

That includes head coach and general manager Joe Carnahan, who has won three championships as a player and was named coach of the year four times. He says the bumpy start is to be expected when there’s so much change at the beginning of the year.

“The biggest thing was getting our roster here, we still had guys finishing up at school and guys were in roles that they weren’t used to,” said Carnahan. “Now we have a rotation here and we’re giving guys some roles in the bullpen and things have been going better now.”

Joining Carnahan on the bench is a mix of young energy and major league wisdom.

“We’ve got a good mix of guys,” said Carnahan ahead of a Monday game against his former team, the Swift Current 57s.

“Chance Wheatley, he’s been in the league for quite a bit, he even won a championship with Lethbridge as a head coach. Then there’s Alex Archuleta. He’s a younger guy, he’s at a division one school; his dad’s a legendary coach.”

The Berries hit a home run when they landed a coach with big league, international and overseas experience, especially one from nearby North Battleford.

Pitching coach Andrew Albers mowed down batters from the mound at Cairns field 20 years ago. He says the quality of the league has only increased since he won rookie of the year for the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets, as has the number of games in a season and teams in the league.

“You kind of showed up and you’re on your own for weightlifting, and you’re on your own for warmups and things like that,” said Albers of the preparation level in the early 2000’s. “So that’s changed, I think guys are a lot more aware of what they need to do to get ready and get their own preparation in order to get ready for games.”

Other things are exactly the same, he says.

“It's still a group of guys coming together from all sorts of different parts, and you’ve got to find a way to build that camaraderie and build that team chemistry in a hurry,” said Albers. “And you just hope that you have good people in your dugout and good teammates.”

Playing for the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in the majors, all over the minor leagues, wearing the maple leaf for Team Canada, even playing in Korea and Japan, Albers brings a wealth of experience that most players will never get.

He says the amount of time and attention spent on fundamentals and game preparation during his time in Japan stands out.

“All the detail that goes into it, it’s really incredible,” said Albers of his days playing for the Orix Buffaloes in the Japan Western League. “It’s something over here that we don’t necessarily pay quite as much attention to those things. We pay attention to some different things, but again, their attention to detail on the little things of the game was really incredible.”

Since he’s a big name and he’s got commitments in Saskatoon, Albers is able to skip out on one little detail about baseball that he doesn’t love.

“I’m not actually travelling with the team, so I don’t go on the bus trips,” said Albers. “I’ve taken my share of bus trips I would say over the last 18, 20 years. It's nice to get to hang out with the guys and to build that chemistry, build that camaraderie on the bus. But sitting on a bus for five, six hours a day, it does a number to the back and I’ve had a few too many of those.”

With his playing days over, the left-handed pitcher is showing the Berries what they can do with their careers, and he’s throwing out some good advice.

“There’s going to be weaknesses in your game, and that’s ok,” he said. “You just try to hide those with your strengths. You’re here for a reason, they’ve had success. Understand who you are and what you do well, and really dive into that. Use it to have success.”

The Berries host the Swift Current 57s at Cairns field. Opening pitch goes at 7pm. 

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