OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics) - When David Dellucci makes a promise, he intends to keep it. It's the mindset that drove the Rebel great back to school more than two decades since he took his last college course. He already has about all the accolades a potential college graduate can ask for, but that doesn't matter to him, because he has a commitment to uphold.
"I promised my grandfather, when he was alive, that I would go back and get my degree when I signed to play professional baseball," Dellucci said.
He fulfilled his promise to the late Carlo Polito on Saturday, when he walked across the stage at The Pavilion to receive his degree from the University of Mississippi, 24 years after he last stepped onto the Ole Miss campus as a student.
Dellucci's academic plans had to take a backseat to his 13-year professional baseball career, an illustrious one that saw him crowned a 2001 World Series Champion.
His dream of graduating from college, however, never faded, and when the Rebel Reconnect program allowed him the opportunity to finish his schooling online, he jumped at the opportunity.
"I feel like Ole Miss took a chance on me as a young man and a young baseball player out of high school, and they offered me an opportunity to get a degree and better my life," Dellucci said. "It is important on my end to complete that commitment that they offered to me. I owe it back to them to finish my degree, so it's a two-way street."
It wasn't an easy process for the retired MLB player. Now a husband and father, Dellucci has had to juggle his family life and busy work schedule with the added work of a course load.
"It's not easy," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "For baseball players, especially guys that have a long career like he did, now you're established. You're married with a family in Baton Rouge. It makes it a lot more difficult to make that happen. I know the difficulty that it takes to come back and finish."
Dellucci, however, knows a thing or two about the work required to turn a dream into reality.
When he left campus in 1995, Dellucci held the program record for most career total bases (430), most career runs scored (181), most home runs in a single season (17), most RBI in a single season (63) and most stolen bases in a single season (31), not to mention top-five finishes in just about every single offensive category there is to offer.
Dellucci is still an easy find in the Ole Miss record book, but in the 24 years since he last donned the Red and Blue, he's watched his name slowly slide down the list of school record holders.
"I was athlete of the year in 1995, I won the SEC batting title, and I did all that stuff which is great, but records get broken and statistics get forgotten," Dellucci said. "One thing that can never get taken away from me is my college degree from the University of Mississippi."
Dellucci walked across The Pavilion stage on Saturday and received his degree in University Studies. It was a day to remember for the Rebel great, who was adamant about playing a part in the graduation festivities in Oxford.
"When you go to college and reach the ultimate goal of earning a degree, this is the pinnacle," Dellucci said. "This is what you set out to do – to walk across the stage and get your degree that took you four years, or in my case 24 years, to achieve. I'm not going to stay at home and wait for it to come in the mail, I'm going to go walk across that stage."
Though he won't be the oldest Rebel to graduate in 2019, he'll certainly have some years on the average age in The Grove on Saturday. In Dellucci's defense, at least he has the hardware to back up his 20-year hiatus from academia.
"I had some colleagues at the SEC Network joke around that I should go up there with my World Series ring and then maybe people will understand that I had other priorities over the last 20 years," Dellucci said.
Dellucci has amassed quite the resume over the years, from All-American in college, to World Series Champion in the MLB, to ESPN broadcaster and the current host of Rally Cap, the SEC Network's premiere college baseball and softball show. To him, though, the distinction of college graduate ranks right up there with his greatest achievements.
"It's up there with winning the World Series," Dellucci said.
Just a few months ago, Ole Miss fans selected Dellucci to grace the 2019 Swayze Field banners outside the main concourse at Oxford-University Stadium, along with fellow Rebel great J.B. Woodman, who also returned to finish up his degree this season. It's just one of the many ways that the people of Oxford have always made him feel welcome on campus.
"Ole Miss took me in," Dellucci said. "I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — LSU Tiger country — and I chose Ole Miss because of the southern hospitality and the way that the fans and the residents of Oxford treated me. Oxford is a wonderful, small town."
Dellucci's role with the SEC Network includes serving as color analyst on game broadcasts, and early in the season, he is able to call several Ole Miss home games. Those are opportunities for the current Rebel players to spend time with Dellucci and be reminded of the legends before them who helped craft Ole Miss into a national powerhouse.
"I think it's great for our current players," Bianco said. "There's a former major leaguer and somebody who was an All-American, and here he is in the dugout before our games. He's just a great ambassador."
Bianco currently has a handful of draft-eligible juniors and non-graduating seniors on his roster who hope to hear their name called in June's 2019 MLB Draft, which could potentially cut their academic careers short. He just hopes that whenever their retirement from the game may be, their love for the University of Mississippi will one day draw them back to the Ole Miss campus, as Dellucci's did.
"You hope that, like David, they have an affinity for Ole Miss," Bianco said. "They obviously like this place to come here out of high school or junior college, but like David, you're hoping that 20 years down the road, their love for it is only going to grow. That's my hope for all the guys who play here."
Dellucci has always been a graduate of the Ole Miss baseball program, but as of Saturday, he will officially be David Dellucci, graduate of the University of Mississippi.
"We've always looked at him as one of our alumni, but we're proud that he can officially get that piece of paper," Bianco said.
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