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Van Cleve returns to Starkville

April 29, 2012

Dan Van Cleve grew up a fan of the Ole Miss Rebels.

Both of his parents attended Ole Miss and there once was a time when Van Cleve wanted to play football for the Rebels.

It turned out that Van Cleve was too small to be a college quarterback in the Southeastern Conference so he turned to the game of baseball.

Van Cleve's destiny in that sport wasn't at Ole Miss, but at Mississippi State and he became one of the school's best defensive outfielders from 1982-85.

"It's ironic that I ended up here," Van Cleve said as he watched the Bulldogs and Rebels compete Sunday in the third game of an SEC weekend series at Dudy Noble Field. "It's really nice to be back in Starkville and this is surely a special place."

After signing with MSU, Van Cleve hovered around fourth on the depth chart as a freshman.

The Bulldogs moved him to the outfield and there was more playing time ahead.

"They found out I could run a little bit," Van Cleve said. "It worked out the way it did."

In a career spent mostly in the leadoff position for the Bulldogs, Van Cleve is the all-time leader in runs scored with 232 and had 80 runs scored in 1983 which is fifth best in school history for a single season.

Van Cleve is second at MSU with 70 career stolen bases and holds the record with 38 thefts in 1985. He had 55 career doubles that ranks him fourth all-time with the Bulldogs.

It was the 1985 season when MSU had arguably the best season in school history when it finished 50-15 and tied for third in the College World Series.

Van Cleve has fond memories of that time and still has contact with teammates and coaches from that era.

"I try to keep in touch with Bobby Thigpen and we were roommates," Van Cleve said. "I talk with coach (Ron) Polk, not as much as I would like, but fairly regularly. I've kind of bounced around a little bit so I may be a little harder to keep up with."

Between the minor leagues, medical school, and working in private practice, Van Cleve counted and came up with 25 years since he had visited Starkville.

Van Cleve hopes to one day return from working in New York to possibly landing in Memphis where he can come watch more Bulldog baseball more often in the future.

Known for the way he chased down fly balls during his college career, Van Cleve appreciated the play by MSU's Hunter Renfroe during the 4-2 victory over Ole Miss to rob Matt Snyder of a home run in the fourth inning.

"There was a play against Michigan (in 1985) that was hit similar to that," Van Cleve said. "I wasn't a power hitter so I always tried to take pride in my defense. Coach (Brian) Shoop was our outfielders coach and we actually worked on those plays. We would work on the soft toss balls just out of reach where you had to dive and extend your range so for me, those plays we essentially practiced.

"It's nice to be remembered in that way."

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