From the ashes, a new era emerges for Lodi's historic Zupo Field

Apr. 13—More than three years after a fire destroyed several structures at Zupo Field, Lodi's historic baseball stadium has reopened to the community.

City of Lodi staff held a ribbon cutting at the Washington Street baseball diamond Friday afternoon, unveiling a new grandstand and press box, as well as LED security lighting, backstop and underground infrastructure, among other improvements.

"It's turned out to be a beautiful facility that's going to be enjoyed for generations to come, like many generations in the past in Lodi have enjoyed this field," interim city manager Andrew Keys said."

Just before 5 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2019, Lodi Fire Department crews responded to a fire at the 100-year-old stadium and found the main grandstand, press box and office engulfed in flames.

Crews had to cut locks off the main gates to gain entry to the field, and immediately encountered grandstand scaffolding ready to explode.

Parts of melted pipes that were welded on both ends became so hot during the blaze that they exploded, and crews began a defense from the outside of the stadium to prevent flames from spreading to the Grape Bowl next door.

The area of origin was determined to be to somewhere behind the Zupo Field sign that greets guests as they enter the stadium, and closer to the first base side of the grandstands and office.

About a month later, it was determined that two young boys inadvertently started the blaze.

Replacing everything that was lost in the fire cost an estimated $4.6 million, covered mostly through insurance.

Former Assemblyman Jim Cooper was also able to get the State Legislature to award the city $750,000 toward repairs and reconstruction in 2020.

"The fact that this all came together is just Lodi in a nutshell," councilman Mikey Hothi said. "It took so many different levels of government and community to make this happen. Beyond allocating the money, it's all of the folks that made this happen... I know how big of a deal this is for our community."

Mayor Lisa Craig said she remembered coming to Zupo Field as a young girl to watch Lodi's various minor league teams, and remembered the concession stand always having a long line due to serving the best hot dogs.

"We have more work to do," she said. "The concession stand needs help. We also will have a donor wall where we're going to be putting up plaques to recognize those individuals that are continuing to support the legacy of baseball in Lodi and youth sports."

Built in 1924, the facility was originally known as Lawrence Park. In 1966, the stadium became the home of the Lodi Crushers, a Single-A California League team affiliated with the Chicago Cubs, according to .com.

The team was affiliated with a number of Major League Baseball franchises, including the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as two Nippon Pro Baseball league clubs from Japan over its 18-year existence in Lodi.

The team took a hiatus in 1985 before moving to Ventura County in 1986. According to Wikipedia, the team moved to San Bernardino in 1987 as the Spirit, and now exists as the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Zupo Field was also home to semi-professional baseball teams for 55 years, dating back to the mid-1940s.

According to News-Sentinel archives, Tony Zupo, Sr., Herb Handel and Ed DeBenedetti approached the local Guild Winery about sponsoring a Lodi team. A deal was made, and in 1946, the Lodi Guild Wines began playing against Northern California prison teams.

Zupo managed the team until his death in the mid-1980s. John Nilmeyer took over in 1986, and that year asked the city to change the stadium's name to Tony Zupo Field, according to a Lodi City Council agenda report from Dec. 17 of that year.

The team's name was changed to the Packers, and its last season was 2000 when scheduling conflicts at the field caused the Packers to cancel the 2001 season.

In recent years, the stadium was home to several Lodi summer collegiate teams including the Glory and Crushers.

Some notable names who played in Lodi with the Dodgers affiliation include Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Marshall in 1979.

Other notables who once played in Lodi include Vida Blue, who played for both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, former Giants manager Dusty Baker, and Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.

Zupo Field has also been home to both the Lodi and Tokay high school baseball programs as well as American Legion and recreational teams.

Lodi Public Works director Charles Swimley honored parks project coordinator Steve Virray and former construction manager Gary Wiman with home plate plaques Friday for their efforts to lead the reconstruction project, likening the facility to the Giants' Oracle Park.

"This is a gorgeous facility, and it doesn't happen without some heavy lifters," he said. "A lot of folks participated, but you've got Steve and Gary, who have been instrumental in making this project just as gorgeous as can be, And it's from their heart. It was a labor of love."

Zupo Field will host its first official baseball game since the fire on Monday, April 15, when Lodi High School plays Tracy's West High School. The junior varsity teams take the field at 4 p.m. and the varsity teams face-off at 6:30 p.m.

"When you have the privilege of working on a project like this, you understand what a community like Lodi is," Wiman said. "We're out here, and almost daily, someone is stopping by to see what's going on. Early on in the project, we had a group of older people come out and ask if they could walk out to the pitcher's area, and they said a prayer for one of their coaching buddies that had passed away. That's what this facility means to our community."

The city is asking for the community's help in funding replacement of the concession stand. If you would like to donate, visit or email