View From Lodi CA: Big Time Baseball Returns To Lodi
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After a twenty-four year absence, big time baseball returns to Lodi.

Next Friday night June 6th at Tony Zupo Field, the Lodi GrapeSox will take on the Clovis Outlaws in the Sierra Baseball League's 2008 inaugural game.

With a roster made up of some of the nation's leading NCAA players, the GrapeSox will bring Lodi's baseball tradition back home.

For Lodi's many baseball fans and historians, the GrapeSox-Outlaws match up is a much-anticipated event. And Zupo Field, with its Fenway Park similarities is the perfect setting.

Since 1984, when the Los Angeles Dodgers relocated its Lodi minor league franchise, fans have had to travel to the Bay Area—or at least to Stockton—too see high quality baseball.

But now, many Lodians may be able to walk or bike to Zupo Field to root on the new local stars. Imagine—no gas required!

Lodi's baseball history is rich with former Major League greats. Some of them are forever a part of the sport's lore.

Fire balling left-hander Vida Blue, for example, led both the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants during his prime 1970s years. Blue is one of the few pitchers to win both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in the same season.

Other standouts that passed through Lodi on their way to the big leagues include three Los Angeles Dodgers: Fernando Valenzuela, Dusty Baker and Bill Buckner—the goat of the 1986 World Series who as a Boston Red Sox allowed a routine ground ball to elude him thereby keeping the New York Mets alive and costing the Red Sox the series.

Valenzuela currently does color commentary for the Dodgers' Spanish language radio stations while Baker manages the Cincinnati Reds after similar stints with the Giants and Chicago Cubs.

And Buckner, a Vallejo native, received a hero's welcome in April when he returned to Fenway Park during an "all is forgiven" ceremony. (Watch it here on You Tube).

Leon Lee, one of the greatest homerun hitters in the history of the Japanese League and long time manager in the Mets' system, will direct the GrapeSox on the field.

One of the players under Lee's guidance is third baseman Tanner Moore, a sophomore from the University of Tennessee.

When I spoke to Moore, he was getting ready for his trip to Lodi and full of enthusiasm for the GrapeSox and the season ahead.

Moore said that the GrapeSox roster is full of talented college players that he's looking forward to playing with.

Included among them are catcher Andrew Susac and infielder Danny Hayes from the 2006 and 2007 NCAA national champion Oregon State University.

The University of the Pacific will be represented by outfielder Matt Fulson as well pitchers Larry Holsher and Mark Mc Cain. 

Bruce Galluadet, general manager, foresees a great summer ahead for the GrapeSox and Lodi.

Galluadet told me that: "Baseball is good for everybody. It is a great family outing. It teaches life lessons. Baseball is exciting and playing this summer at Tony Zupo Field allows folks to see great players, heading up the right way—through college with a passion for the game."

An added bonus for fans is that Lodi will host the Sierra Baseball League All-Star Classic on July 12th. ESPN and Comcast Sports Network will provide regional radio and television coverage.

For ticket sales and other information, call 209-339-4028.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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