Friday, May 13, 2016

BYU Cougars 5 at San Francisco Dons 6 (NCAA Baseball, WCC) - May 12, 2016

After watching the Jays take 2 of 3 from the Giants, I had a day off before returning to Texas to see the Jays continue their road trip. Sharpy and Duncan joined me as we walked from Market Street to Fisherman's Wharf, up and down many, many hills. We stopped at several tourist spots, such as twisty Lombard Street and Ghiradelli Square, before enjoying lunch at the Buena Vista Cafe (below).

All in all, a very nice morning that ended with a visit to Pier 39 to check out the lazy sea lions. What a life, just lying around in the sun all day having your photo taken. Kind of like celebrities.

After that, it was time to head across town to check out some more San Francisco baseball, this time of the college variety. Sharpy and Duncan must have been inspired by the sea lions because despite our plans to make the three-mile walk, they insisted that we take the bus after only a mile on foot. Pathetic. I couldn't leave them alone in the big city, so we hopped on the bus, and eventually made it to Benedetti Diamond, home of the USF Dons baseball team.

It is amazing that a Division I baseball diamond exists in this city and almost nobody knows about it. Located at the northeastern edge of campus where Golden Gate meets Masonic, the ballpark is only noticeable as you approach for the large amount of netting that protects passersby from foul balls.

The full name of the facility is Dante Benedetti Diamond at Max Ulrich Field. It was opened in 1953 and named after Ulrich, who donated a substantial amount of money to the university. When Coach Dante Benedetti retired in the 1979 after 29 years at the helm, his name was added, and over time, it has become known as Benedetti Diamond.

The entrance is down a small laneway off Golden Gate, where the ticket office will charge you $10 for general admission. There are two small seating sections along first base, with an unprotected berm section further down. The seats used to be entirely benches, but a few plastic chairs have been haphazardly installed to make things slightly more comfortable.

There is also a grass area down the third base line, which is where the sun will shine throughout the game. There are no lights here, so all games are played during the day, and the sun sets behind first base, which makes it chilly as the evening approaches. There is a small concession stand down first base selling hot dogs, popcorn, and soda. Of course, as an NCAA venue, there is no booze available. The only history I noticed were the pennants on the left field fence representing the years that the Dons made the NCAA regionals. The other thing to note is the very shallow outfield, particularly along the lines, with the right field foul pole lying only 300 feet away, necessitating yellow tape high along the mesh to make home runs a little bit more difficult.

Overall, this is a surprising find in the city and one that escapes most sports travellers. It is a simple venue, but extremely pleasant and well worth a visit if you are in San Francisco and want to get away from the hordes of tourists, none of whom are aware of this hidden gem.

The Game

The BYU Cougars were in town to open a 3-game West Coast Conference series, coming in at 13-9 in conference play, while the Dons were 13-11. The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Dons opening the scoring in the 2nd on a solo home run from Aaron Ping only to have BYU take a 2-1 lead in the third on two doubles and a single. A three-run shot from Ross Puskarich in the 5th got USF back in front, but again the Cougars responded immediately, as Brennon Anderson cracked a 2-run shot to tie the game, and then Brennon (a common name in Utah I guess) Lunn was hit by a pitch, stole second, and scored on a single by Hayden Nielsen.

The pitching settled down after that and the Dons entered the bottom of the 9th still down 5-4. That is when things got a little weird. For simplicity, I'm going to minimize using player names. The Dons started with a walk and brought in a pinch runner. BYU brought in their closer, Mason Marshall (pitching above), so USF pinch ran for the pinch runner, bringing in Blake Valley (#30 above). Valley quickly stole second but the batter, Puskarich, walked anyway. A sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third, and a pinch runner, Beau Bozett was brought in to replace Puskarich on second (the scene above). Pinch hitter Riley Helland singled to tie the game as Bozett was held at third. An intentional walk to Harrison Bruce brought Ryan Matranga to the plate. Matranga stroked a fly ball to center and Bozett scored on the play. But Bruce never returned to first, and the Cougars brought the ball there to make the third out of the inning. The umpire actually signalled out and the Cougars celebrated, thinking that the final out prevented that run. But it didn't, as you cannot have a force play on a fly ball, instead it is a time play and since the runner crossed home plate before the out was made at first, the game was over. The umpire should never have made the out signal as it led to a bit of confusion on the field, but in the end, the Dons won a thriller 6-5.

This game was equally as entertaining as any of the Blue Jays/Giants games, with four lead changes and a walkoff sacrifice fly. NCAA baseball usually is best when you see the first game of a weekend series as both teams start their aces, and that was the case here as the next two games were won by BYU 12-6 and 9-3.


Near the end of the game, there was a foul ball that cleared the mesh and bounced out onto Golden Gate Avenue, rolling up Annapolis Terrace. I watched it closely and had an idea where it might have ended up, so after the game, I headed that way and sure enough, the ball was under the wheel of a car. I picked it up, a rare find because fans generally have to return foul balls at NCAA games. I now have balls from the majors, both AAA leagues, and two AA leagues, so I might try grabbing one from each remaining minor league to complete the collection.



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