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Baseball At The Hill Top
Though University of San Francisco is better known for its basketball and soccer programs, the Dons baseball program is formidable. The USF baseball diamond is tucked away at the corner of Golden Gate and Masonic Avenues near the geographical center of the city. Here, you’ll find a quirky ballpark squeezed between rows of houses, apartments and university buildings. Because of the tight fit, the game day experience is quite intimate and enjoyable if not expansive.
Named for famed San Francisco restaurateur and all-around baseball guy, Dante Benedetti, the diamond has had its current name since 1980. In a lauded, unselfish move, Benedetti asked to have his salary lowered to just $1 a year (for 16 years) so that the baseball program could survive administration’s attempt to cut costs.
Dante Benedetti’s list of good deeds is about as long as the list of infamous company he kept; boyhood friend Joe DiMaggio spoke at USF’s dedication of the diamond to Benedetti. Read of Benedetti’s impact on USF and the North Beach San Francisco neighborhood in his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle from 2005. He seemed to be a truly great man.
Though the Benedetti era wasn’t filled with on-field success, the Dons baseball team has experienced most if its success in the last 5 years, securing their only 2 conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances in 2006 and 2011, under the guidance of Nino Giarrantano.
The diamond has been home to San Francisco Dons baseball since 1953 and it’s hard to imagine much has changed since that time, with the exception of new bleacher seats for spectators. Even if wide-ranging upgrades were desired, there is simply no room to make them.
Food & Beverage 1
This was the smallest setup I’ve seen at a sporting event. It consisted of a folding table, behind which was an oven keeping hot dogs warm, and a small refrigerator keeping bottled soda and water cool. Candy, chips, and peanuts were also available for this matinee game. Though it was a limited setup it didn’t seem to bother anyone as the start time was at 2, sort of in between meals.
Clearly affected by the 2:00 pm start on a school day, there weren’t many spectators in attendance. In fact, many of the people watching the game were big league scouts.
There are two sets of bleachers to sit in. One is directly behind home plate and the other is down the third base line, about even with the third baseman. I moved around a bit and really enjoyed the view from both bleachers.
Unfortunately the netting, common behind home plate, extended all along both sides of the field the length of the foul line. It even extended part of the way beyond the outfield fence. This was a little distracting but was no doubt because of the houses and apartments so close to the diamond.
There are some pretty views to be had at the “hill top” so be sure to take in the scenery around you while visiting this intimate, quirky ballpark.
As a city, San Francisco has everything you could want in way of shopping, seeing, eating, and drinking. From the diamond, you are less than 5 miles from all of the following: Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, Mission District, North Beach (Little Italy), and Twin Peaks. You’re a few blocks from some of the biggest homes in SF, in the Pacific Heights mansions, and the great views of Alamo Square and Alta Plaza Park. You’re five blocks from the Panhandle, the entrance to Golden Gate Park, and eight blocks from the infamous intersection of Haight and Ashbury.
The school shares the neighborhoods of Lone Mountain and NOPA (North of Panhandle), neighbors of Upper and Lower Haight, Castro, Fillmore, Western Addition, Inner Richmond, and Laurel Heights.
You can experience anything from taco trucks to fine dining in the neighborhood, and everything in between.
Looking for Mexican? Cheap options include: El Rancho Grande, El Castillito and Casa Mexicana. More gourmet options include: Little Chihuahua, Papalote Mexican Grill (salsa to write home about) and Nopalito.
Tapas? I’d recommend Cha Cha Cha on Haight or Solstice on Divisadero. Finer dining options include Nopa and Bar Crudo. Pizza? Little Star and Club Deluxe.
There are also Indian, Thai, and Burmese restaurants within walking distance.
The neighborhood has perhaps the most pub-style bars in the entire city. With a large Irish population the neighborhood boasts popular bars like Kezar Pub (Haight St,adjacent to the former home of the 49ers), Nickies (Haight St), The Bitter End (Clement St), and Martin Mack’s (Haight St).
Beer connoisseur? You’re a walkable distance to a microbrewery, Magnolia, on Haight and Masonic. You’re also nearby the excellent tap selections of Toronado, Mad Dog in the Fog, and The Page. Are you mixologist? Check out Churchill on Church and 14th.
There weren’t many butts in the seats against the Nevada Wolfpack. No doubt this was in part because of the 2:00 pm weekday start. I did like how backpack-clad students wandered in and out of the complex between classes to catch a few innings.
The fans in attendance seemed to be mostly parents who, though relatively calm throughout, seemed to be knowledgeable of the game and the players. Many spectators were even keeping score.
In stark contrast to the subdued USF fans was the visiting Wolf Pack team who were without a doubt the loudest group of individuals at the diamond. They created a stir from the moment their hitter stepped into the batter’s box right up until the pitcher began his windup.
From out of town the USF campus is not too convenient to get to because of the lack of freeways within city limits. It is only served by public transit that already runs within San Francisco by MUNI so coming from out of town will require a transfer. You can ride the 31-Balboa, the 5-Fulton or the 43-Masonic for $2 and that will drop you off within two blocks of the diamond. If driving, the neighborhood is one of the easier ones to navigate by car in San Francisco but parking can be an issue. There is a limited parking lot available as well as street parking (check the restriction signs) within a block of the gym. I heard many conversations amongst patrons weighing the pros and cons of risking leaving their car in a 2 hour spot for the duration of the game. I have no update on whether they were ticketed. There were no restrooms in the facility.
Return on Investment 4
It is very reasonable to see a San Francisco Dons baseball game. Adult tickets are $8, seniors are $6, and children get in for $4. Combine that with the fact that the Dons are the defending WCC champs you can’t ask for a better product within the conference.
Though the facility lacks some of the bells and whistles of other ballparks, the quality of play is excellent and you can sit anywhere you like. My recommendation would be to see one of the other bigger programs come through in the intimate Benedetti Diamond atmosphere.
There are banners on the outfield fences representing the Dons’ recent success but nothing much else. In my opinion, its greatest extra is the ability to sit up close for the action in a beautiful setting. Also unique is that fans sitting down the third base line can see into the Dons dugout on that same side because of the odd configuration. Above the Dons dugout is the press box where radio broadcasters and the PA announcer work from.
I’ll definitely be returning for weekend afternoon contest. USF tends to bring in top-notch out of conference opponents so a Stanford would be a good opponent to see.
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Dante Benedetti Diamond at Max Ulrich Field
Golden Gate Ave and Masonic Ave
San Francisco, CA 94115
Year Opened: 1953