Dante Benedetti. Anyone who plays baseball in the Bay Area has heard his name before, and the San Francisco baseball community continues to remember his legacy each year with the annual Dante Benedetti Classic. The game is normally held at AT&T Park, and the proceeds benefit the Dante Benedetti Foundation, which works to help under privileged youth in San Francisco learn how to play baseball.
Born in 1919, Dante Benedetti grew up in a much different San Francisco than we know today. A time when nobody in North Beach locked their doors, and a sense of solidarity meant no family went starving, no matter how poor they were. Growing up in these circumstances made an impression on the young Benedetti, who embodied these values for the rest of his long, illustrious life.
Dante Benedetti was born in 27 Jasper Alley near Washington Square Park in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. He was the son of an Italian immigrant from Lucca and grew up in his family’s restaurant, The New Pisa. His childhood consisted of eating delicious food made from scratch everyday by his mother, the chef of the New Pisa, and playing baseball in the empty lots of North Beach. It was there that he met the famous Joe DiMaggio, who became his childhood friend and baseball companion.
Benedetti went on to attend St. Ignatius College (now USF), and played varsity Baseball, Football and Boxing. After college Benedetti served in the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard during World War II.
Upon his return to San Francisco, he took over management of the New Pisa with the help of his three siblings. If this wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also coached baseball for teams located all around the city. He was a father figure to many young boys who looked to him, especially when things weren’t going so well. He made plenty of money as a restaurateur, which he invested back into the community by inspiring young boys to stay on the baseball diamond and stay out of trouble.
Not only did Benedetti coach boy’s baseball, but he also used the New Pisa restaurant as a sponsor. If a kid didn’t have enough money for a glove, Benedetti would buy him one. If a child needed a new pair of cleats, Benedetti would come to the rescue. At one point, The New Pisa sponsored eight teams and provided them with all gear necessary.
In 1962 Benedetti became the head coach of the University of San Francisco Dons baseball team. He coached the Dons with the same style that he used all of his life. Not only did he teach the athletes baseball, but he also incorporated valuable life lessons that many of his players would never forget.
His generosity didn’t expire at the collegiate level. Two years after he became head coach, USF decided to scrap the baseball program for financial reasons. Rather than let the program die, Benedetti offered to coach the team for a $1 per year salary. He continually bought gear for the team when the University couldn’t provide.
Although his teams at USF were not wildly successful (the Dons never finished higher than second place), his charity allowed kids to stay in school and keep playing the game they loved. Benedetti was known for telling kids that couldn’t afford college, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you a baseball scholarship” when in fact he would pay their tuition out of his own pocket.
Benedetti holds a place in the USF Athletics Hall of Fame and until recently held the record for most career wins with 373. He coached baseball at USF for 16 years and retired in 1980. He passed away in 2005 from complications of the flu but his spirit is still alive today in the form of the Dante Benedetti Foundation. This foundation continues to encourage young, inner city boys to look to baseball as a way to stay out of trouble.
One goal of the foundation, the Field of Dreams project, is to make USF’s Benedetti Field a hub for youth baseball in San Francisco. Due to budget cuts and a lack of space many of the city’s baseball fields have been destroyed or left in poor condition. The first phase of the project was successfully completed with the installation of enclosed batting cages. Future goals include the incorporation of field turf to provide greater access to youth baseball teams all year round.