The former Indianola Academy standout and current Ole Miss slugger set the tone in his team’s first game last weekend with a second inning two-RBI gapper
Ben Van Cleve had one double during the College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas last weekend.
But it was a loud double. A message to the baseball world that Ole Miss is for real. That its 16-game winning streak to end the COVID-shortened 2020 season was no fluke.
Seven spots down the lineup card in the designated hitter role, Van Cleve arrived in the batter’s box last Saturday afternoon - bases full of Rebels - on the field that hosted the entirety of the 2020 Major League Baseball World Series four months earlier.
He was sitting on the fastball, and he got it.
His 2-run two-bagger to the opposite field gap put Ole Miss up early, and the four runs scored that inning would prove to hold up against No. 10 TCU.
“My whole body was like numb, honestly,” Van Cleve told The E-T this week about that ringing double. “I can’t even recall if I stepped on the bag at first base. For about ten minutes, everything just went just completely black. I don’t remember anything. I just remember it being so loud but so quiet at the same time, if that makes sense.”
Van Cleve would collect another hit against TCU, finishing the night 2-for-3.
Over the next two days, Ole Miss would handle No. 3 Texas Tech (5-4) and No. 9 Texas (8-1), catapulting the Rebels to No. 1 in the nation, according to Baseball America.
“It was a challenge that we knew would be tough, but we were up for it,” Van Cleve said. “Every game was intense. Two of the games weren’t as close as people thought they were going to be, but they were pretty intense games, and we had to grind it out.”
Van Cleve said his team got three huge wins to start the season, but he says the lineup hasn’t even begun to gel.
“I don’t think we hit very well, honestly, in any of the three games,” he said. “We had one good hitting inning in all three games, and I think that was about it. We were struggling to put some hits together and put some runs together, but thankfully we pulled it out.”
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, it would be easy for Van Cleve to execute a dead pull approach at the plate.
But that’s not his game. He’s not hung up on homers. Just hits and RBIs like the one that gave Ole Miss that early lead on Saturday.
“I think it’s a big part of my game,” Van Cleve said about his hit em’ where they’re pitched approach. “Back in high school, I used to basically be a pull hitter (all the time). Ever since I’ve gotten to this approach where I’m hitting the ball the other way, anywhere it’s pitched, I feel like I’ve become a better hitter, and I’ve gotten more hits.”
And as his career doubles pile up, he’s becoming famous on social media for his trademark gorilla-like chest pump celebration at second that has earned him the nickname The Swayze Silverback.
Van Cleve said when he arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of 2019, everybody was working on their double celebrations, and pitcher Doug Nikhazy suggested, mostly due to his size, that he beat his chest after hitting the bag safely.
“The guys liked it, and it kind of stuck,” Van Cleve said. “I get on Twitter, and they’re calling me The Swayze Silverback, and ever since then, it kind of stuck.”
Now riding a 19-game winning streak, as of press time this week, Van Cleve and the No. 1 Ole Miss team will be hosting their first games in Oxford this week, with a three-game series against Central Florida this weekend.
All three games are scheduled to air on the SEC Network.