This was 1991. Don Kessinger was the baseball coach at Ole Miss. Ron Polk coached Mississippi State. Skip Bertman was winning big at LSU. Future Major Leaguer David Dellucci was a baseball and football standout at Catholic High in Baton Rouge.
Polk recruited Dellucci first and recruited him hard. Dellucci even went to Polk’s summer baseball camp. “Coach Polk offered me a scholarship, a really good one,” Dellucci says.
Kessinger joined the chase and offered a scholarship equal to the one Polk had offered. Dellucci visited Oxford the weekend of an LSU series and loved the place. “People in Oxford treated me like a long lost cousin, Southern hospitality at its best,” Dellucci says.
“I didn’t hear from LSU, my hometown school, until really late in the game,” Dellucci says. “And when I did all I got was a xeroxed form letter that offered me the opportunity to walk on and possibly earn money for textbooks.”
Dellucci, after much angst, chose Ole Miss, where he became one of the greatest players in Rebels baseball history. Saturday night, Dellucci will become one of eight new members of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
“I am honored beyond belief,” Dellucci said Monday morning. “This was not something expected. I’ve been to the hall of fame’s museum in Jackson and seen all the names and exhibits of all the tremendous athletes honored there. I was flabbergasted when I got the news, and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Thirty-one years after he chose Ole Miss and Kessinger over State and Polk, he joins both those coaches in the MSHOF. “And I still hear from Coach Polk all the time,” Dellucci said. “I got letters from him when I was in college, through all my years in the Major Leagues, and I still do. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Mississippi State.”
Kessinger? “I love that man,” Dellucci answers. “He made me a better player and a better person. And he gave me the best advice I ever received. I loved football back then and I wanted to play college football. I asked DK about it and he told me I was welcome to walk on in football if I wanted to, but he said, ‘If you concentrate on baseball, you can become a great baseball player and have a future in this sport.’”
Don Kessinger, it turns out, was dead-on. Dellucci was a four-year standout, an All-American as a senior when he hit .410 and led Ole Miss to a 40-win season and a berth in an NCAA Regional at Tallahassee. Florida State won the regional, but Dellucci hit four home runs and the Rebs finished as runners-up.
Funny thing: Dellucci had been drafted in the 11th round and offered a $60,000 signing bonus after his junior year. But, as was the case with several Rebels this past season, Dellucci wanted one more chance to get to Omaha. He didn’t quite make it, despite one of the best individual hitting seasons in Ole Miss history.
His reward? The Baltimore Orioles drafted him just one round higher in the 10th. With no leverage in negotiations, he signed for a $7,500 bonus.
“So coming back cost me a bunch of money, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Dellucci says. “I’ll remember that senior season the rest of my life.”
Dellucci didn’t mess around in professional baseball. He made the Major Leagues in just two years, and then he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1998 expansion draft. His first season in Arizona was a doozy. He led the Major Leagues with 12 triples for a last-place team. In 2001, just three seasons later, the Diamondbacks won it all, beating the New York Yankees in the World Series, in the aftermath of 9/11.
“From worst to first in three seasons and then winning the World Series at Yankee Stadium,” Dellucci says. “I’ll never forget it, any of it.”
Dellucci played 13 Major League seasons. For his career, he batted .313 in 17 postseason games. He hit .254 overall, with 101 home runs.
These days, Dellucci works as a TV analyst for the SEC Network, a job he doesn’t take for granted. “I love college baseball, especially the SEC,” Dellucci says. “For me, it’s perfect. I love my job.”
That job took him to Omaha this spring where he watched the 2022 Rebels’ magical run to the College World Series championship. “What a year this has been for me,” Dellucci, 48, says. “I mean, Ole Miss wins the national championship and now this. If this is a dream, I hope it doesn’t end.”