After scouring Northborough and other towns for years for a place to build a baseball training mecca for ambitious young players, a former Boston Red Sox executive has found his field of dreams across the street from a local mall.
A $25 million training complex for young ballplayers, featuring acres of impeccably groomed fields and sports-themed shops and medical offices, is slated to take shape across from Northborough Crossing and the new Wegmans, under plans unveiled by New England Baseball Enterprises.
Three full-sized, professionally designed ball fields, with synthetic turf and towering light poles for night play, will open over the summer, with a full schedule of games and tournaments set to kick off in September, said Steven August, a former Red Sox assistant general manager who now heads the amateur baseball organization.
The complex will be home to the New England Ruffnecks, a baseball skills development program for teens dreaming of playing at the college level, said August, who also runs the training program.
“We have been at this since 2006,” August said. “Now we will have a site we can call home — this will be the home of the Ruffnecks.
“We hope the Ruffnecks brand will help fuel baseball activity throughout the area.”
For August and his Ruffnecks, the proposed baseball complex near the intersection of routes 9 and 20 represents a second shot at a dream that had been stalled for years.
Northborough zoning officials rejected a proposal by August’s company in 2012 to build his baseball training center at the former Indian Meadows Golf Club on the Northborough-Westborough line.
The golf course backed up against a residential neighborhood, so the proposal sparked opposition from neighbors concerned about everything from loud cheering to the potential light pollution from 80-foot-tall poles.
In retrospect, the Indian Meadows site would not have worked as well, August admitted. “You don’t want yourself to be handcuffed when you are doing that kind of programming,” he said.
After that rejection, August turned his attention to the site of a former golf driving range across from the Northborough Crossing retail complex.
Unlike the Indian Meadows proposal, there is no nearby residential area. The planned use of the property, for baseball and retail, is within the site’s zoning rules, noted Kathy Joubert, Northborough’s town planner.
“It is an allowed use,” Joubert said. “There was never any question of the proposed use of the property. They didn’t need any special permits.”
The baseball fields are slated to be fully complete by September, with plans calling for the eventual construction of a clubhouse, indoor training facility, and indoor hitting tunnels.
When the fields are not in use by the Ruffnecks, they will be leased out to other local athletic associations for games and practices, such as soccer and lacrosse, August said.
About 90 young players, ages 13 to 18, train and play with the Ruffnecks each year, with 20 former professional players and coaches providing guidance.
The organization runs as a nonprofit, with families paying $3,000 a year in tuition and donors picking up the remainder of the cost, August said.
In addition to maintaining fields and equipment, the Ruffnecks organization sends teams to play in tournaments in Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and other states.
The tournaments offer competition from teams in similar developmental leagues, and often draw the attention of college scouts, he said.
“In order for us to grow and do more awesome things, we need our own fields,” August said during the debate over the first proposal.
Retail plans for the Ruffnecks’ Northborough complex are still taking shape.
A 3-acre area at the front of the site along Route 20 is being actively marketed to various retailers, from medical offices to sports-themed restaurants, said Jason Kosow, chief financial officer at New England Baseball Enterprises.
The site can accommodate anything from a small coffee shop to a 30,000-square-foot office building.
“There will be some really good, synergistic opportunities here,” said Andrew Collins, the organization’s chief operating officer.