In 1992 it was announced that a minor league team would be returning to the city for the first time since the Hickory Rebels, whose final season was in 1970.
Elmer Winkler had donated his 37 acre tract of land to the city of Hickory in 1989 so the city already had the perfect land to build a stadium. The property that the stadium sits on is named Winkler Park in his honor. In addition to the ballpark, there is the Winkler Activity Center, a playground, walking trails, and the Winkler Museum and birthplace.
Work on LP Frans Stadium began in 1992. An unusual amount of heavy rain delayed stadium projects leading up to the April 16th stadium opener against the Fayetteville Generals. Alternate sites such as Legion Field in Hickory and Deal Stadium in Granite Falls were being investigated as possible alternate sites for the team to play while the major pieces of the stadium were completed. Sims Park, the franchise’s former home in Gastonia, was even considered to host a few games. On the list of required components to make the Frans playable for Opening Day were parking, fencing, grass on the field, seating, and restrooms for fans. Once the weather cleared up from the winter storms, crews started working six day weeks to try to make up for the near month-long delays that had slowed progress. The White Sox brought in their head groundskeeper to oversee some of the field projects such as 8,000 feet of drainage pipes that were installed under eight inches of sand with Bermuda grass- that ideally is kept at an inch high- on top.
With two weeks to go before the big day, the stadium was still not ready. The ownership group cranked up the overtime hours, paying crews from sunup to sundown to try to get it all done.
When Opening Day finally came, the stadium didn’t have all the bells and whistles such as the Crawdads Café or a fully paved Clement Boulevard or parking lot, but baseball’s return to the Catawba Valley would in fact take place at LP Frans Stadium. The anticipation was so high for the first game, that the team installed temporary bleachers down the left and right field lines to boost the seating capacity from 5,100 closer to the projected 8,000.
The project was built for nearly $3.8 million that was raised from a combination of city funds and private funding ($2.25 million). A bulk of the funds paid by the city were repaid via the lease agreement and a share of the concessions, ticket and parking revenues.
The home and visiting clubhouses were paid for by a donation in the name of Forest Gaines, a local Hickory businessman. The name LP Frans Stadium comes from the Pepsi bottler Lee Polk Frans, whose daughters made a large donation to help fund the construction of the stadium. The rough grading and the new four lane road that is primary access point to the park was a gift from the late Clarence Clement. The road and the stadium’s address still bear his name: Clement Boulevard.
Following the 2013 season the stadium underwent its first major renovations. The improvements included: a new VIP section, Picnic Pavilion, three outdoor Party Patios, and completely renovated suites, Crawdads Cafe, and front offices. The stadium also received new stadium lights and a repaved parking lot.
In October of 2017, the Texas Rangers announced an additional $1 million in renovations to the Frans. During the renovations the playing surface, including sod, warning track material and infield dirt, was replaced and drainage beneath the field was improved. Five poles that supported the protective netting behind home plate were also removed in favor of overhead wiring to improve sightlines. Both dugouts received new flooring, benches, steps, as well as rebuilt helmet and bat racks. The plywood outfield walls were torn down and new padded walls were installed in their place. The biggest change in fan experience is the new LED video board. The new display measures 15.5' tall by 54' wide. The previous board measured 12' tall by 20' wide.
A third big round of renovations began in September 2019. This project saw the remodel and expansion of the clubhouses. In the home clubhouse, the laundry room was removed and replaced with a new dining and lounge area for players. The metal lockers were taken out in favor of new wood lockers. The home side got new carpet, a fresh coat of paint, and a new cloud ceiling. The coach’s locker space was shifted down into what was previously the umpire’s locker room. The old coach’s dressing area became a study room where coaches can prepare for the game and players sit to review film. On the visiting side, an old storage room was converted into a coach’s locker area. The visitors also received new furniture, carpet and paint. The displaced laundry room and umpire room were moved to a newly constructed building. The playground was also redone as part of the offseason renovations. Other small projects included replacing the suite floors and resurfacing the picnic deck.
The stadium seats roughly 4,000 fans and has hosted the South Atlantic League Finals three times: 2002, 2004 and 2015. L.P. Frans Stadium has also played host to the 1994, 2001, and 2014 SAL all-star games.