It was two years ago that Purnell Wrigley Field opened in Waterville, giving area baseball players a sparkling new facility and prompting hopes that it could become a hub for youth baseball in the state and beyond.

In the time since, those hopes have been realized. This will be the third straight summer that a Cal Ripken New England regional tournament comes to Waterville, with the 11U tournament set to begin Saturday.

“The fields are key,” said Isaac LeBlanc, the athletic director and tournament chair at the Alfond Youth and Community Center, which runs Waterville Cal Ripken. “The turf fields and the amenities and the replica features that they both offer have been a huge draw to the teams in New England and beyond. We’ve just been able to draw in so many new teams.”

Members of the Gardiner and Waterville 11U Cal Ripken teams congratulate each other after a state tournament game earlier this month at Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo Michael G. Seamans

Purnell Wrigley Field is one of the two replica parks in the area, along with Little Fenway in Oakland, and they’ve made central Maine something of a destination for the region’s top tournaments and teams. Waterville hosted the 11U regionals in 2017 and the 12U regionals last year, and will get an even bigger event next summer when the Cal Ripken 12U World Series comes to Wrigley.

“When we got offered our first regional in 2017, we tried our best to put our best foot forward and the tournament went really well,” LeBlanc said. “That helped put Waterville on the map a little bit, in getting some recognition. The ultimate bid is getting the blessing to do a World Series next year for the Cal Ripken 12-year-old division. That’s going to be a great opportunity for us to showcase our fields and our program.”

LeBlanc said Waterville’s appeal has grown even beyond the regional tournaments that have come its way.

“I think Waterville’s definitely becoming a destination place for teams to want to play,” he said. “In addition to the sanctioned Cal Ripken regionals and World Series, we’re running tournaments at both our fields all summer long, and we have a lot of teams from out of state coming for these tournaments now. … For kids 12 and under, the first time they show up to one of those fields, they get excited and rightfully so.”

The 11U tournament begins Saturday with Cranston, Rhode Island playing Ash/West (Mass.) at 10 a.m., Litchfield, New Hampshire playing Andy Valley at 12:30 p.m., Chelmsford, Massachusetts playing Brunswick at 3 and Central Vermont playing Waterville at 5:30. For Waterville’s players this competition is yet another opportunity to be tested by New England’s top teams.

“They’re really excited,” coach Brian Bellows said. “They’ve played a couple of tournaments now, gotten the jitters out for the most part. I think they’re just ready to play ball and excited to play ball.”

Waterville went 1-2 and finished fifth in the state tournament, but Bellows said the team is confident it didn’t show its best in that competition.

“We’re better than we were even two or three weeks ago,” he said. “Brunswick, which was the runner-up, we were up on them 13-6 in our second game of the state tournament (before losing 25-14). We just kind of fell asleep, we got a lead and we couldn’t (add) on to it. Those are teams we can compete against, but I really think we stepped on our toes that day.”

Bellows said he believes that his players, even at 11 years old, can have an underdog mentality.

“If we play a good ballgame, we can contend with these guys,” he said. “These kids want to win as many games as they can and show people what they have.”

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