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Van Kelly

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Van Howard Kelly

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" 'What do you say, Rook?' Mantle asked him. 'You hit that ball good.' 'Yes, sir,' Kelly said." - Van Kelly's encounter with the veteran Mickey Mantle during a spring training game in 1968 between the Braves and Yankees, quoted in an article in the Salibury Post

Van Kelly played two seasons in the majors and 12 in the minors. With the San Diego Padres in their inaugural season in 1969 he was a frequently-used third baseman, playing 388 innings at the position while the regular, Ed Spiezio, was in 832.

Van was born in Charlotte, NC in 1946. Catfish Hunter and Johnny Oates were also born in North Carolina that year.

Signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1964, he would end up spending 8+ years in the Milwaukee/Atlanta minor league system. He also played in the organizations of the Padres, Chicago White Sox and Montreal Expos.

Kelly made it to the majors when the Braves traded him to the Padres in June of 1969. At age 23, he was the same age as Padres teammates Nate Colbert, Tommy Dean, Jerry DaVanon, Ron Slocum, Sonny Ruberto, Mike Corkins and Steve Arlin. After a couple of years in the Padres organization, he came back to the Braves organization.

It was his tough luck to be part of the Braves organization when it was full of talented hitters. For instance, in 1971 with the Richmond Braves he was a teammate of Dusty Baker (who hit .311), Darrell Evans (who slugged .545), Tommie Aaron (who hit .318), Dick Allen's brother Hank Allen (who appeared in 13 games) and Jim Breazeale (who led the team in home runs).

He managed the Lethbridge Expos in 1975 to a 37-35 record; this was the first professional team of future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson. He worked for a company called National Starch for 32 years.

Kelly often was associated with famous names. He was the record-tying strikeout when Tom Seaver struck out 10 in a row in 1970. He was playing in the game when Willie Mays hit his 600th home run. He roomed one season in the minors with Tony LaRussa and was a teammate of the later-famous hitting coach Walt Hriniak. When he played at Salt Lake City, Don Zimmer was his manager.

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