San Fransico— A new era in USF baseball will be ushered in when the newly renovated Benedetti Diamond officially opens its doors on Wednesday as the Dons host New Mexico in a non-conference matchup at 3 p.m.
“It’s hard to describe the emotion of how excited we are to have a first-class facility like this,” said Nino Giarratano. “It’s hard for me to express my gratitude to everybody that’s helped get this built. It’s been an 18-year dream for me. I always talked about building something special for USF and for the community, and the e-mails, the text messages – everything I’ve gotten from my former players and the alumni has just been overwhelming.”
Wednesday’s opener will feature a ceremonial first pitch from USF president Father Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. and USF director of athletics Scott Sidwell, along with Giarratano.
The new home of Dons baseball underwent a $6 million complete overhaul over the past nine months, spearheaded by the generosity of Paul and Amy Meyer, whose namesake adorns the Meyer Plaza spectating area behind home plate, and Dante’s Boys Foundation, which has been a vital partner in helping develop USF baseball.
This renovation is the first major makeover to the field since the facility’s original construction in 1953 when then-Max Ulrich Field became the Dons’ permanent home field. The new ballpark was constructed on the same site as the previous field, with the entire field being reoriented 90 degrees so that home plate in the new facility now sits where left field used to be.
With the majority of the ballpark having been completed within the past two months, the installation of the artificial AstroTurf playing surface was the final major piece of construction. That process began on March 31 and took approximately a week and a half to complete.
The new home of Dons baseball features a wrap-around spectator deck along the baselines and behind home plate providing sightlines to the entire field, 150 reserved chairback seats, along with four reserved high top tables directly behind home plate and grass berm general admission seating areas down both the first and third base lines.
The ballpark’s intimate setting immediately sets itself apart from other collegiate and professional ballparks by providing fans with one of the closest viewpoints in all of baseball, aided with the excavation of over 7,000 cubic yards of dirt that lowered the entire field by 18 inches, creating a sunken feel to the playing surface.
Adding to the unique features of the new Benedetti Diamond is a 100-percent organic infill in the facility’s artificial surface made up of ground coconut husks. Benedetti Diamond will be the first NCAA Division I facility in the country to feature this more health-conscious GreenPlay organic infill, which replaces the ground rubber found in previous AstroTurf facilities.
“It’s because the kids have done so well in school, they’ve competed at such a high level, and it’s because we’ve attained some success on and off the field that this facility is getting built,” added Giarratano, whose club had been forced to play all 34 of its games this season on the road or at neutral sites around the Bay Area. “Thanks to the University for stepping up and building this facility for the kids, and thanks to the kids that came before this that built a good enough foundation to have this facility show up.”
Phase two of the Benedetti Diamond renovations will eventually call for a brand new USF clubhouse adjacent to the home dugout, offices and meeting areas for baseball and other USF teams, an indoor hitting facility, and a hospitality deck overlooking the field.
Benedetti Diamond is the first piece of a major athletics facility campaign that includes a new basketball practice facility, major renovations to War Memorial at the Sobrato Center and future plans for renovations to Negoesco Stadium, home of USF men’s and women’s soccer.
Benedetti Diamond is the newest baseball facility in the West Coast Conference after San Diego renovated Fowler Park and Cunningham Stadium prior to the 2013 season.
USF will host Gonzaga this weekend in the first series at the new Benedetti Diamond. The formal grand opening ceremony is scheduled prior to Saturday’s West Coast Conference contest against Gonzaga at 1 p.m. Those events will include a ceremonial first pitch from numerous donors that helped make Benedetti Diamond a reality and a t-shirt giveaway among other festivities.
Construction of Benedetti Diamond was completed by Hornberger + Worstell, an architectural firm based in San Francisco. The firm is recognized for its expertise in the master planning and design of destination resorts, urban business and conference hotels, recreation and wellness facilities, academic and residential communities, as well as the rehabilitation and modernization of historic structures.