Pat Kelly keeps in step while walking with God


June 02, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

First God entered Pat Kelly's life, then Earl Weaver.

It was probably inevitable that the convergence of these two forces in Kelly's life would contribute material to the baseball conversation. It did, and to this day the Kelly-Weaver story lives as a classic of the genre, told and retold, even published in a book.

The former Orioles outfielder still seems to enjoy telling it. But he has not been one to hold back, not since he experienced a Christian reawakening in 1975. He gave up drinking, carousing, cussing. He took up talking, and to this day he's still talking, spreading the Word through Life Line Ministries.

The nonprofit organization consists of Kelly and a staff of one, plus a few volunteers running on an annual budget of about $100,000 from an office in Hunt Valley. Kelly is the talker, the itinerant preacher who spends about a third of the year out of town, sometimes out of the country, on speaking engagements.

"I go and I proclaim the Gospel," says Kelly, who is 49 and lives in Timonium with his wife and daughter. "I see people saved."

He felt this happen in his own life in 1975 after he attended a Bible study class at a friend's home in Chicago during the off-season. He was playing for the White Sox then and living the life of a bachelor ballplayer, "drinking, having a good time." He was also maintaining about a .270 batting average most years as a singles and doubles hitter.

Despite his success, something was missing. The Bible class answered the need, he says.

"I was saved that night," Kelly says. "I heard the Gospel message."

Then, lots of other people heard it. Friends, ballplayers, anyone who would listen and doubtless many who would rather not. Kelly, who was traded to the Orioles in November 1976 and stayed until 1980, felt the need to share Scripture around the clubhouse.

Weaver, of course, was the irresistible challenge. As Kelly recalls it, he did not attempt to bring the Word to the heavy smoking and swearing manager until 1979. Kelly played in 68 games that year and hit .288, his best batting average as an Oriole.

He struck out with Weaver but added to baseball literature by approaching the manager in the clubhouse one day with the Good News:

"I said, 'Earl, it's great to walk with the Lord, it's great to walk with Jesus.' "

Weaver looked at Kelly, a man called by high authority, and revealed that he had other priorities: "Pat," said Weaver, "I'd rather have you walk with the bases loaded."

The postscript to the story came in a letter Weaver sent to Kelly after the outfielder was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in December 1980. Kelly doesn't divulge the contents, but says Weaver expressed appreciation for Kelly's spiritual devotion. To this day, he says, reading it "brings tears to my eyes. It showed a side of Earl Weaver that not many people know about."

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