TELEGRAM & GAZETTE – Golf greens are turning into baseball diamonds as work on a $25 million baseball training facility proceeds at the junction of Routes 20 and 9 near the Northboro Crossing shopping center, promising to bring thousands of people and additional business to the region.
Construction began on the New England Baseball Complex in November on 30 acres owned by Laura McKinnon, who operated the East Coast Golf Academy and Practice Center on the same property for 18 years until it closed in 2013. New England Baseball Enterprises LLC will lease the land from Ms. McKinnon.
With three fully lighted synthetic-turf baseball diamonds designed to be multiuse fields that can be converted for softball, Little League, soccer or lacrosse, the baseball complex will be the first of its kind in New England, and is expected to attract more than 200,000 visitors annually.
The complex will be home to the New England Ruffnecks, a baseball development program founded in 2003 by Steve August, a former assistant general manager of the Boston Red Sox who now serves as executive director of the Ruffnecks.
The Ruffnecks program is for players age 13 to 18. It is designed to train players to perform at college level, and is regarded as one of the top baseball development programs of its kind in the United States. Players travel through the summer to compete in tournaments across the country. Locally, the Ruffnecks plan to be a resource for local high schools, coaches and players.
The closest similar complex is Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J.
In addition to the practice fields, the complex will also include indoor hitting tunnels, a clubhouse for the Ruffnecks players and teams; a workout facility, and 3 to 4 acres that can be used for related retail businesses, such as sports medicine and health care providers, a family-oriented sports-themed restaurant and other complementary businesses.
“This is a centralized location, not just in Massachusetts, but New England,” said Jason Kosow, chief financial officer of New England Baseball Enterprises, in an interview last week. He touted the town’s location near the Massachusetts Turnpike and other highways to provide relatively quick and easy access to and from Cape Cod, Maine and Connecticut.
“This is a really huge tournament location. We will be drawing, naturally, from the local area, and we will be large and impactful, but we intend to draw intensively from all of New England,” Mr. Kosow said.
This is the second location that New England Baseball Enterprises scouted in Northboro. In 2011, the organization initially eyed Indian Meadows Golf Course, but the special permit was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Since November, the project site has been graded to accommodate new sports uses. Fields are taking shape, while pipes, conduits, plumbing and other infrastructure are being installed.
“Once everything has been taken care of below the surface, we will take a break due to the weather, but then start ramping up to put the AstroTurf down, build the concession stand, put the lights up. It will look significantly different,” Mr. Kosow said.
Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlboro Economic Development Corp., which has been working with New England Baseball Enterprises for the past year, said the complex will have a positive impact on the local hospitality industry.
“This will be a huge boon to our hospitality industry because it focuses occupancy of hotel rooms on what is considered the shoulders of the week — Thursday through Sunday,” Mr. Cummings said. “You have your traditional business traveller Monday through Wednesday and the non-traditional leisure, sports tourism, which tends to be slower.”
Specific economic and job impacts on the region have yet to be determined.
“We suspect that there will be an indirect multiplier effect from ancillary spending, which would lead me to believe there would be an enormous economic impact on hotels, restaurants and retail. People will be coming into the area to spend money,” Mr. Cummings said. “Where they (the complex) are locating, they will be the anchor, which is going to spur some wonderful retail uses on their other parcels, which will be complemented by Northboro Crossing. We are going to see that area develop and continue to grow.”
The Ruffnecks began searching for a site to host a complex in 2006, with Mr. August and Andrew Collins, director of operations, using their travel experience to design a complex unique to the region.
“It’s been our experience in talking with people we compete against, they would rather play baseball in southern New England in July than in southern Texas,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins added that the goal is to have the complex ready for a full season by September.
“We are really trying to create a destination for everybody, not just for baseball,” Mr. Kosow said.
This article originally appeared here.