Neighbors are not fans of Northborough baseball facility

Former Boston Red Sox official Steve August wants to build a field of dreams in Northborough for aspiring young ballplayers, but he faces a backlash from neighbors fearing loud cheering, night games, and 80-foot-high light poles.

Dozens of residents turned out for a public hearing Monday evening to urge the Zoning Board of Appeals to reject the proposal by August and his New England Baseball Enterprises LLC, which would turn a golf course on the Northborough-Westborough line into a year-round training complex with four baseball diamonds for teenage ballplayers seeking to impress college scouts.

After hearing a detailed presentation on the plan, followed by an equally detailed rebuttal by a committee formed by neighbors in the Indian Meadow Drive residential development, the board opted to take no action on the special permit request and resume the public hearing Sept. 4.

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“I can’t imagine having to check a baseball schedule before I have dinner on my deck,’’ said
Doris Bertram-Morin, who lives in the Indian Meadow subdivision.

A former assistant general manager and traveling secretary with the Red Sox, August launched the New England Ruffnecks baseball program a decade ago to provide training and high-level coaching for 13- to 18-year-old ballplayers eager to play at the college level and beyond.

The players train year-round with the help of indoor batting cages and other practice facilities, and compete in tournaments during the summer with other teams across the country under the Ruffnecks banner.

After leasing fields and practice facilities at Babson and other local colleges, August now wants to purchase the Indian Meadows Golf Club property for $1.9 million and convert it into three full-sized baseball fields and one smaller one for younger players.

The proposal also calls for a 10,000-square-foot indoor practice facility that could be used during cold weather, with batting cages, pitching tunnels, and other training equipment.

New England Baseball has the golf course under agreement, but the final sale is contingent on the company being able to line up all of the required town permits and approvals, August said.

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Players pay $3,000 a year to take part in the Ruffnecks program, in hopes of developing their skills and earning a spot on a college team.

Graduates have gone onto play at a range of local colleges and universities, and a few have made it onto minor league teams, though no one has yet landed in the majors, August said. The real costs are twice what the club charges, with the difference made up by wealthy benefactors, he said.

“In order for us to grow and do more awesome things, we need our own fields,’’ August said.

In hopes of reassuring anxious neighbors, Mark Donahue, a lawyer for New England Baseball, announced changes to the plan at Monday’s hearing while addressing, point by point, some of the concerns raised over the proposed complex.

Play at the two fields closest to the Indian Meadow subdivision would end at 8 p.m., Donahue said. In addition, field lights would be designed to prevent glare and glow, and the complex would be separated from the neighborhood by a fence and plantings, he said.

The company also presented testimony from a sound expert, who said there would be little change in the noise levels that have come from the golf course, even if cheering erupted at all four fields.

The entire complex, even with all fields in use, would probably have no more than 250 to 300 people at a time, including players, with interest limited to families, friends, and college scouts, Donahue said.

But efforts to offer reassurances were met with skepticism from Indian Meadow residents, who said the baseball operation would disrupt the peace and quiet of their neighborhood, which does not have street lights and where the stars can be seen clearly at night.

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A group of neighbors made their own PowerPoint presentation laying out their concerns.

One major bone of contention is New England Baseball’s plan to light the fields for night games, using several lofty towers spread over the property.

To illustrate their point, the neighbors photographed red balloons 80 feet up in the air to show how the light towers would look from their windows.

Kevin O’Connell, an Indian Meadow resident and an engineer, put together a presentation on noise levels, using data he collected during a Ruffnecks tournament at a local college.

“The nighttime noise is projected to increase,’’ he said. “We could be sitting there, having a conversation, and someone hits a home run and we lose part of that.’’

Zoning board members also peppered New England Baseball’s consultants with questions, with chairman Dick Rand winning a roomful of applause when he questioned the company’s suggestion that the neighbors may not fully grasp all of the subtleties of the sound issue.

“I think the individuals are pretty familiar with the noise that golf generates and the noise that baseball generates,’’ Rand said.

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