Ex-Oriole stresses values in session with students

May 23, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

When a former Baltimore Orioles left-fielder visits a school, you can reasonably expect he'll talk about baseball. But some students at MacArthur Middle School were a little surprised Friday when they also got a lesson about life from Pat Kelly.

The athlete turned preacher "didn't really talk about baseball," said Mark Thomas, a 13-year-old eighth-grader. "He talked about life. And trust in God. And how important it is to have a good attitude.

"It's important to have self-respect and to respect others."

The students, among about 35 children selected to meet with Mr. Kelly after his speech to the entire student body, spoke rapid-fire, excited by the chance to talk with him and get an autograph.

"He also told us 'Don't do things you don't want to do' and how to be a team player," said 13-year-old Gonzalo Pareja, another eighth-grader. "He talked about having good determination and how, if you're going to succeed, you should never give up."

Mr. Kelly, who grew up in Philadelphia as the youngest in a family of nine children, is an example of how to succeed -- he set his sights on professional baseball and never looked away.

He also learned to make adjustments, switching from pitcher to left fielder because he wanted to play baseball every game. He had a lifetime batting average of .264 over 13 years, playing first for the Minnesota Twins and then for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore and finally the Cleveland Indians.

"I was fast. I had speed, that was my talent," said Mr. Kelly. "I would steal bases and score runs and that was how I contributed to a winning team. In my rookie year I stole 40 bases, the rookie record was 49."

But he told the students that he also was smart. Not wanting to count solely on his ability to earn money in sports, he attended Morgan State University during the years he played for the Orioles, from 1977 through 1980.

He became religious in 1975, after a bout with depression left him "on the edge of a nervous breakdown" and a friend, Clyde White, invited him to attend a Bible study session.

After that, his fellow ballplayers nicknamed him "The Rev."

"I guess the guys had a hunch that I'd become a minister," said Mr. Kelly, now an evangelical preacher whose home base is Timonium in Baltimore County. He didn't say much about his religious beliefs during his talks with the students, except when they asked him a direct question.

And the 49-year-old preacher replied humbly when students peppered him with questions about his athletic career, saying several times, "I wasn't the best."

"If God never blessed me one moment more, I've had more than my share of blessings," he said. "What do I have to brag about? It's only by the grace of God that I was able to do what I did."

Mr. Kelly did say a lot, however, about the importance of attitude, self-determination, discipline and persistence.

"What I hope I got across is that they've got to have the desire," he said. "There has to be a desire to want to make it, a sense of spiritualism. They have to be willing to sacrifice. The nobodies don't study and don't practice and don't care. To be somebody takes blood, and sweat and tears."

Eighth-grader Evelyn River says she knew that "everybody can be a somebody."

"I did know it, but he made it sound more convincing," she said quietly. "He went through a lot of stuff just like we do, and he got out and became successful."

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