Canora’s Al Sapieha Field receives upgrades to help grow Canora baseball

After the Canora Supers swept through the 2019 Southeast Senior Baseball League playoffs undefeated and won the league championship, the team was looking forward to defending the title in 2020.

Unfortunately, those plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic which caused the cancellation of the 2020 season. But since there was no baseball action this season on Al Sapieha field, the home of the Supers and Canora Minor Baseball’s U18 Team, the opportunity was there to make improvements to the playing surface, said Aaron Herriges, director of leisure services.

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Herriges said the overall objective of the recent work done on the diamond was to provide a safe, enjoyable, high quality playing field for Canora’s residents. 

“We believe it will strengthen the baseball program in our community,” continued Herriges. “We want to support a continuous flow of baseball players and coaches from the grassroots level to U18 and then onto the Supers. Having great quality baseball at the higher levels permeates through the whole program and provides role models and attainable goals for our youth. It keeps players, coaches and spectators engaged.”

“We are striving to create a feature diamond at our sports grounds. Every great sports grounds has one. The field is very visible from the Highway No. 9 and will look great when we have a game going on with large crowds. The spectator numbers were excellent in 2019 as we look to continue that trend.”

Herriges believes the ball diamond improvements will benefit the entire community in the long run.

“It provides another beautiful attraction and enjoyable recreational opportunity for our residents, while giving any potential future residents another great reason to live here,” he said. “It creates an opportunity to host larger events, including sports days, barbecues and others.”

“We want to create some excitement. It seems we’ve done a lot of that already. We’ve been getting great feedback and the project is not even done. We’ve enjoyed all the honks we’ve been getting from the highway while work was being done.”

The main focus of the project recently was the diamond’s infield. Workers included Town of Canora staff members Kris Currie and Randy Danyluk and Herriges and his father Brian, who volunteered his time.

“We installed amended sandy base soil and grade,” said the younger Herriges. “We put in 20 irrigation heads and quick couplers. We put in big roll sod, installed a clay mound, base cut outs, and top dressing; a daunting task completed in two days with a lot of hard work in the sun.”

The work on the diamond was just the first step in the project.

“We are looking to plant trees for shelter from wind and sun,” said Herriges. “We plan to add large bleachers to the park, add some foul poles, and finish painting the team shelters. Next year, if COVID-19 restrictions are withdrawn, we would like to host an opening day event. But it’s too early to know for sure right now.”

Al Sapieha Field was dedicated on July 19, 1997 at the Bantam C Provincial Championship held in Canora. Sapieha was remembered in the July 23 Canora Courier: 

“He was much involved in all aspects of baseball, as a player, a coach and an official. On February 28, Sapieha was 43 years old when he died in a car accident near Saskatoon. Shortly after arriving in Canora in 1981, Sapieha quickly became involved with senior baseball and his ‘excitement and love for the game took over,’ said Adrian Rock, a veteran Supers player. ‘The next thing we knew, he was installing the attitude that we could win and we were better than an average team.’

“Sapieha worked the team hard and had it enter area and provincial tournaments. He dedicated countless hours to the sport and often put the game ahead of his business. He continued leading the team until 1989, when he felt he could no longer be an active player. ‘It was time for Al to pass on his knowledge and exuberance to minor baseball and to his kids,’ Rock said. ‘Al continued to be part of our team, though it was through umpiring. He did this with the same dedication as playing or coaching, and when he couldn’t make it, he sent his wife Chris. Sapieha’s hard work and dedication to this game had brought baseball in Canora to new heights,’ Rock concluded.

“In his tribute, Terry Dennis, Supers’ coach, said, ‘I always think Al is still part of the team. Seeing his son, Noah, umping home and Chris umping first and topping it all off, but playing ball with his son, Nathan, sends a chill down my spine and brings a tear to my eye.’

“A long-time minor ball coach, Sapieha assisted Tom Rakochy in coaching the Canora bantams during the previous season and was part of the group to make the application to bring the Bantam C Provincial Championship to Canora in 1997.”