Sun Belt star radiates humility
UALR senior pitcher Chance Cleveland, a history major, has high expectations for the team and for himself this season. It’s that drive that helped him become the player he is today. Before the season began, he was voted the number one pitcher in the Sun Belt Conference by its coaches.
Cleveland’s love for the game was instilled in him early on by his father.
“[It] started when I was three years old,” Cleveland said. “We started playing in the backyard and haven’t stopped since. I’ll keep playing until they make me stop.”
After last season’s success, Cleveland was voted First Team All-Sun Belt Conference and Second Team All-South Central Region. With that, along with being named the number one pitcher of the current season, Cleveland said it comes with a little more pressure to perform well.
“There’s always that pressure…but I just try to control what I can control,” he said. “I just take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one hitter at a time, and one pitch at a time.”
Cleveland started playing organized baseball at the age of four, playing tee-ball games and continuing for hours afterward, receiving more instruction from his father. He knew even then, that he loved the game of baseball.
One of the toughest tests of that love came in high school when Cleveland’s team lost the championship game.
“That was probably the lowest point in my career no doubt,” Cleveland said. “But, after the game I talked to my dad. He wanted to make sure that I used that to motivate myself.”
The advice Cleveland received from his father was something he used to learn from and lean on when he made the transition from being a starting pitcher to a closer at Crowder College in southwestern Missouri. He was unsure about being a closer at first, but that changed in the first game.
“You can’t beat that rush,” Cleveland said.
His last season at Crowder, Cleveland led the nation with 17 saves.
“That was one of the best years that I’ve had playing baseball,” he said.
It was after that season when Cleveland began to be recruited by several different schools around the country, including UALR.
Cleveland ultimately chose UALR because of the relationships he established with the coaches and to be near his family back home. The Pine Bluff native and Watson Chapel high school graduate remains very close to his family and wanted them to have the opportunity to see him play. The team facilities and the city of Little Rock also made his decision to come to UALR an easier one.
“I’ve always liked the area…I honestly couldn’t be happier, where I am now,” he said.
The transition from closer back to starting pitcher was another challenge that Cleveland faced when he came to UALR last season.
“There’s always a question of sustaining your velocity and being able to go a full game…whereas closing requires you to give everything you got in one explosive inning,” Cleveland said. “Now [in starting], you have to pace yourself, it’s more a mental game.”
The transition was a complete success last season as Cleveland had a 9-4 record and garnered attention and high expectations for this season. None of which are higher than the goals he has for this year.
The respect given by the SBC coaches in voting Cleveland the conference’s best pitcher before the season is not something that he takes lightly.
“It’s a big honor. I really appreciate the respect the coaches have shown me,” Cleveland said. “Everybody likes to be noticed for their hard work…but it comes with a big target on your back, so you have to work that much harder.”
Cleveland said he enjoys the camaraderie he shares with his teammates.
“I love playing with these guys. We are a really close-knit team and I’ve made friends here that will last a lifetime,” he said.
Cleveland is aiming for a historic finish in his final season at UALR.
“My biggest goal for this team is to finish better than UALR ever has before, to be the best team that UALR has ever had,” he said. “You have a close-knit team like we have and get hot at the end, you never know where you can go.”
Cleveland and the Trojans have a five-game homestand in which they will play Western Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State University March 1-6 before hitting the road to play in the Austin Peay Tournament March 8-10.