Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Benedetti Diamond

It fills the air every spring at USF, the distinct ping of aluminum during afternoon batting practice. It comes from a forgotten corner of campus, behind the dorms, before Masonic, on Benedetti Diamond at Ulrich Field, the home of the USF Dons Baseball team. The field was built in 1953 and named after Max Ulrich, a transplant to San Francisco neither affiliated with Jesuits nor the University of San Francisco in any capacity, but who named USF as a significant beneficiary in his will. This was due entirely to the USF Credo, a statement written by then-USF president, and noted anti-Communist Fr. Raymond Feely, SJ. The credo espoused belief in God, personal dignity, natural rights, sanctity of the home, stated an opposition to all forms of racism, and was inspirational enough to secure $358,000 from the estate of Mr. Ulrich.

The fortunes of the team in the years following the building of the field were largely in the hands of a San Francisco restauranteur named Dante Benedetti, native to the city, who coached USF baseball for 29 years for the princely sum of one dollar per year. While 29 dollars (before taxes) isn't much of a windfall, when Benedetti called it a career in 1980 he saw his name given to the baseball diamond at Ulrich Field as part of retirement ceremonies which were attended by Joe DiMaggio.

The team itself began with the 1907 season. A photograph here shows the original nine on a lot which is the current location of St. Ignatius Church. In the background, you can see the blue house which still stands at the northwest corner of Golden Gate and Parker. The program was loosely organized at the time, produced about a dozen major league players who had careers of little distinction and was interuppted by military drafts. In 1946, however, the University of San Francisco was named the best college team on the West Coast before resuming its status as a respectable team, but certainly no powerhouse.

With only a handful of highlights in the 100 years of Dons baseball, it is no surprise the team has taken a backseat to other more successful sports like basketball, soccer, and the famed 1951 football team. That said, it's no rifle team. The program is very healthy and is enjoying what is probably the best run in the school's history. Manager Nino Giarrantano is in his ninth season with the team and the 2005 and 2006 seasons saw the team set a school record for wins and secure a berth in the college world series, respectively. In addition, players from USF are being drafted by pro teams every year and recent USF alumni are on the fringes of the major leagues. Tagg Bozied, now part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, is best known for his unusual name (Tagg Bozied) and an unusual injury (blowing out his knee celebrating a game-winning home run). Other former players worthy of mention include Jesse Foppert, recently a pitching prospect with the San Francisco Giants, Gil McDougal, the American League Rookie of the Year in 1951, and Joseph Giannini, a member of the 1911 team and son of Bank of America co-founder Amedeo Giannini.

In spite of its placement on a quiet corner of The Hilltop, Benedetti Diamond and the Dons baseball team has secured a more prominent position in the annals of USF's athletic tradition which only figures to grow.

1 comment:

Christina Kho said...

Is Dante Benedetti still alive? I'm sure he's a heck of a guy.