Ayotte Field is tucked away in North Chelmsford near Freeman Lake. The scene looks innocuous enough, with uniformed 17- and 18-year-olds playing baseball in the dead of summer at 10 on a Saturday morning.
But at a deeper glance, days like these are months, even years in the making.
The Lowell Junior Spinners 18U squad was hosting the Fall River-based Brian Rose Baseball club in a New England Elite Baseball League/Amateur Athletic Union matchup.
The games, including weekend travel tournaments, will wind down in the next few weeks, making way for tryouts for the 2017 season, a full winter of workouts, and for the older players, high school ball in the spring. Then the cycle continues with another 30- to 50-game schedule next summer.
The end game for the majority: playing at the next level.
“Ninety-nine percent of kids playing in summer ball/AAU are trying to play ball in college,” said Junior Spinners catcher Thomas Crowley, a rising senior at Dracut High.
Marc Deschenes, the Junior Spinners president, said that nearly every player on his 16U squad will play at the collegiate level. A glance of the program’s alumni page lists dozens of former players who are playing in college or the minors.
That is the reward. The price, in addition to the approximately $3,000 per player fee annually, is a year-round commitment. That is in comparison to American Legion ball, in which the cost per season is anywhere from $0 to $500 for a 25- to 30-game schedule.
“The biggest thing that helps me is the winter and offseason workouts because of the opportunity to get instruction from different coaches,” said Crowley.
The intensity of the offseason does not change much with the younger players, either.
“We practice two days a week for two hours,” said Kyle Espinola, a corner infielder/pitcher for the 13U squad who has been with the Spinners since age 10.
“The first hour we have a strength and conditioning program called Velocity to get us warmed. We would do legs and our core so we could swing the bat faster and some arm strengthening to throw the ball harder. Second hour we would practice infielding for the first couple months, then around January we would do pitching and live batting practice.”
Players 13 and younger play roughly 30 games between April and July. The month of August, players are on their own schedule.
Espinola suits up for his town team in Dracut, where the coaches are volunteers.
“Sometimes the [town team] kids are fooling around because they don’t care as much,” he acknowledged.
Next season Espinola will play for the 13U team — meaning his schedule (50 games) will become a bit more rigorous.
There are other options for aspiring players in the area with the Northeast Hurricanes (Salisbury, Salem, N.H., and Nashua), Team Boston (North Reading), Legends (Middleton), Stampedge (Reading), Nor’Easters (Tewksbury), and Seacoast Pirates (Hampton, N.H.).
According to Zander LaPlante , 17-year-old catcher for the Hurricanes, the program has evolved quite a bit since he started playing three years ago.
“The first year we had good talent but we weren’t winning tournaments,” LaPlante said in a phone interview while he was en route to a tournament in Long Island last weekend.
“We weren’t contenders in a lot compared to now where we’re expecting to go deep in everything we play.”
LaPlante appreciated the fact that a core group of players, numbering seven or eight, have come up through the AAU program together.
Jacob Hunt, another 17-year-old backstop, is also in his third year with the Hurricane program.
“I feel like AAU competition is much higher and a lot more is expected by the coaches,” he said. “They expect you to play at a higher level and carry yourself better. You’ve got to work harder, which I love”
Added Hunt, “Everyone on our team wants to win at this level and move on to the college level whether it’s Division 1, 2, or 3.”
Dean Borrelli, owner of the Northeast Hurricanes, said the players “are here because they really love the sport. They want to play high school and ultimately in college.”
For both he and Deschenes, their reward is seeing the year-round commitment from the players pay off in the summer.
“It’s seeing the kids take what you teach them in the winter and have the aptitude to bring it to the game in the spring,” said Deschenes, a Dracut High grad who played at University of Massachusetts Lowell before pitching in the minors for five organizations, including the Red Sox.
Added Borrelli, “the biggest rewards are seeing the kids improve. That’s our goal is to get them better, individually and from a team standpoint. To see the improvement, that’s very rewarding, and that translates hopefully to better teams.
“And when they have success moving along, whether it’s in their town league or high school, and getting kids into college and seeing them get into the next level. Whether it’s middle school, high school, or college, that’s the best part for me.”Logan Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.