Pat Kelly, a former Baltimore Orioles outfielder who turned to Christianity after finding himself in an unsavory lifestyle during his playing days and later became an evangelistic minister, died of a heart attack Sunday afternoon at a hospital in Chambersburg, Pa. He was 61.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Kelly had preached at Amberson United Methodist Church in Amberson, Pa., and was on his way to visit friends near Chambersburg when he was stricken.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Harold Patrick Kelly was one of seven children of a devout Baptist couple who sent them to Sunday school each week.
After graduating in 1962 from Simon Gratz High School, where he had been an outstanding baseball player, Mr. Kelly was signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent.
He made his first major league appearances in 1967 and 1968, appearing in 20 games with the Twins, then was acquired by the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft of October 1968. He was traded in 1970 to the Chicago White Sox, and recounted later how he reached the lowest ebb of his life in his years there.
By 1975, Mr. Kelly had adopted the lifestyle of the carousing big-leaguer who enjoyed forays with drugs, liquor and women, he said.
"The Pat Kelly I had known for 30 years just stopped existing," he told The Evening Sun for a 1986 profile. He described himself as a "fire engine Christian," the kind of person who finds consolation in religion when he needs "to put out the fire."
Depressed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Mr. Kelly enrolled in a Bible class at the urging of a friend and was born again, he said.
When he was traded to the Orioles in 1976 for Dave Duncan, Mr. Kelly brought skills as an outfielder and hitter as well as a desire to help others find Christianity.
In the beginning, he faced subtle opposition and wisecracks by teammates, he said, but by the time he left the Orioles in 1980 - picked up as a free agent by the Cleveland Indians - he had helped pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez, infielders Doug DeCinces and Kiko Garcia and outfielder Ken Singleton become born-again Christians.
Mr. Kelly enjoyed telling the story of how he urged Earl Weaver to "walk with the Lord," which provoked the Orioles manager to say he'd rather have Mr. Kelly "walk with the bases loaded."
"I got saved in 1978 through his influence," said Mr. McGregor, pitching coach this year for the Frederick Keys.
"I guess we had about 15 guys in the group, and every Sunday we'd have chapel for about 20 minutes in the weight room at Memorial Stadium. And then during the week, we'd meet for Bible study at one another's homes. We had lots of good fellowship," Mr. McGregor said.
Mr. Kelly played for two years with the Indians until being released in 1982 - ending his 15-year career having appeared in 1,385 games, with 1,147 hits, 76 home runs, and a batting average of .264.
Putting down the bat and glove, he became executive director of Christian Family Outreach, a nonprofit Cleveland ministry that assisted needy inner-city young people. The ministry had been founded by his father-in-law, the Rev. Howard R. Jones, said to be the first black evangelist to work for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Mr. Kelly commuted between his Timonium home and Cleveland. He also attended what is now Morgan State University and became a licensed minister in 1986 with the Evangelical Baptist Church in Baltimore.
In 1987, he established the Ellicott City-based Life Line Ministries, a nondenominational evangelistic ministry that conducts revival services.
"Pat has traveled all over the world to preach to people, rich or poor, who want to hear about his love for Jesus Christ," said his wife of 26 years, the former Phyllis Jones.
"Pat was such an asset to the community. He was the embodiment of his religious beliefs and a great lover of people," said the Rev. Joseph C. Ehrmann, the former Colts linebacker who is now pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Baltimore.
"He transcended race, class, sports, and was just a fabulous lover of people, a good husband, and father. He was a charismatic preacher whose message came from his own life, and he wanted people to know that he walked with God," Mr. Ehrmann said.
"He wanted everyone to know about Christ and that they could be saved," said the Rev. Rick G. Cash, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Towson. "He was very peripatetic, had a great voice and knew how to use it. He'd energetically walk across the stage, clap his hands and point. His services were always riveting with people coming forward for spiritual assistance."
Mr. Kelly, who attended Calvary Baptist Church in Baltimore, also enjoyed fishing and playing basketball with friends.
Also surviving are a daughter, April Marie Kelly, a sophomore at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.; two brothers, Leroy Kelly of Willingboro, N.J., the former Cleveland Browns running back and member of the Football Hall of Fame, and Samson Kelly of Philadelphia; and three sisters, Dorothy Allen, Elizabeth Allen and Maybelle Kelly, all of Philadelphia.
Funeral services will be held Friday at Vaughan C. Greene Funeral Services in Randallstown, 8728 Liberty Rd. Family will receive friends Saturday from 10-11 a.m. at New Antioch Baptist Church, 5609 Old Court Rd.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun