Ellis Valentine on Baseball, Restoration & Volunteering
By Kerry Pipes
Ellis Valentine was a natural as a Major League Baseball player. He could hit, he could field, and from his spot in right field, he could throw a man out at home plate with a laser beam arm. But injuries and personal issues shortened his career and even led to post-baseball problems. But he conjured up a comeback, turned his life around and has spent years helping others since.
Valentine was born in Helena, Arkansas, grew up in Los Angeles and was breaking windows with his powerful arm by age 7. It didn’t take long for coaches to notice his prowess. He continued to impress right into high school and had been drafted into the Montreal Expos system by age 17. He went on to play for a decade for four different Major League Baseball teams - Montreal Expos (1975–1981), New York Mets (1981–1982), California Angels (1983) and Texas Rangers (1985).
After baseball, Valentine faced some personal difficulties, cleaned up his act and spent years as a licensed counselor in California. In 2006, he moved back to North Texas and he and his family settled in Grand Prairie. Valentine has been busy with volunteer work and helping others throughout the community, namely through the Raft Recovery non-profit organization he founded.
We had a chance recently to visit with Valentine where he candidly shared about his life, both the good and bad, and what he’s been up to lately. He’s a big guy, and slightly intimidating, but just as friendly and engaging as can be. Here’s what he shared.
When did you first know you were a good baseball player? I was 14. My grandmother had just passed away and my family needed to drive from Los Angeles to Helena, Arkansas for her funeral. It was a two to three day drive and my Junior League baseball team had a championship game in two days. My coach convinced my parents to let me stay with him so I could pitch that game. He even paid for my flight to the funeral! That was a real eye opener for me.
Tell us about your career, what teams you played for and recognition you received? I signed with the Montreal Expos at age 17. I was their second round pick in the 1972 draft. I played three years of minor league ball before being called up to the majors in 1975. My National League rookie season was 1976. I played for the New York Mets, California Angels and finished my career here in 1985 with the Texas Rangers. I won numerous MLB Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards and made the All Star team in 1977. I won a Gold Glove in 1978 and led the National League in outfield throwing assists that same year.
What are some of your best memories about playing MLB? The 1977 All Star game and, that same year, on opening day at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal I hit the stadium’s first homerun.
Do you still keep in touch with former coaches and teammates? Who? Not so much with coaches. I talk with players all the time. I started an online business www.pastpros.com where former professional athletes (in all sports) are given a web presence that helps them with appearances and memorabilia sales.
What was the highlight of your career? My defensive abilities, mainly my throwing arm. My most memorable assist was throwing out Pete Rose in New York. Pete was an excellent base runner. I had to be perfect to get him and I got him! I prided myself as a “Playmaker” defensively.
Was there a low point of your career? Being traded from Montreal to the New York Mets in 1981. It was really difficult for me. I was trying to recover from a beaning incident that happened in St. Louis the year before. I was dealing with what I now know were concussion issues and being traded really hit me hard. I had an extraordinary feeling of being unwanted.
What advice do you have for young athletes? Find a mentor that has a proven track record!
Best advice you were ever given? Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
What do you think separates the good athletes from the great athletes? Time. Your Hall of Fame ball players played longer. They are not greater or better, they have qualifying numbers through longevity.
Your pick for best all-around current MLB player? Past player? Currently, Los Angeles Angel Mike Trout. Past: Barry Bonds.
Share with us your favorite quote or motto you live your life by? “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” - Jackie Robinson. I live by Proverbs 3:5-6.
If you could go back and do it again – what would you do differently? That’s a good question…I don’t have an answer. (LOL)
Little known fact or secret indulgence? I love ice cream.
Who are/were your heroes? Sports: Bob Gibson and Willie Mays. Actor: Sydney Poitier.
Hobbies? Or anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet. I love classic cars and love designing and rebuilding them. My last build was a 1965 Chevy Impala convertible. I called her “Yellow Girl.” She was my best build.
Can you talk about how your career ended and your transition into the next stage of your life? Physically, I couldn’t stay healthy. My years in Montreal on that old AstroTurf did a number on my legs. My last five years I dealt with one injury after another. I had a long talk with God about how I was going to leave the game. It was clear to me when the game became a job it was time. That decision was easy. However, life without baseball was challenging. I made a choice to get some help. The help I got was so good I decided to make it a career. From 1987 to 2014 I counseled many families on issues many of us deal with everyday - codependency, addictive behaviors and character/feelings-based lifestyles.
What brought you to the DFW area? Moving from California to Texas just made sense. We sold our home at the right time and at a great price. The price of homes here is better, there’s no state income tax and Mansfield has great schools. Also, my wife and her family are from Longview and, as a former Texas Ranger, this just seemed like the right place.
Can you tell us about your family? I have three adult children and two grandkids. I have been married to my wonderful wife Karen for 24 years. We dated in the ‘70s, from 1976 to 1980. Life without her was just not good, but, with her it’s great! That language is part of the husband’s manual. We are required to say those kind of things often - it’s part of the agreement. The only thing, I don’t need no stinking manual to love, support and be with this lady!
How do you spend your time these days? I’m retired from full-time counseling work. I do some behavioral education consulting but nothing full-time. I have been blessed with a servant’s heart, so I keep busy doing various charitable works throughout the area.
Tell us about the Raft Recovery organization that you are involved in. I founded RAFT Recovery to provide counseling and coaching services. We also offer athletic camps for kids, and a lawn service for disabled or in-need elderly. This is where I spend much of my time these days.
Tell us more about your lawn service. This has been a very fulfilling way for me to reach out to the community to the elderly folks who have needs. I have a real passion for helping disabled seniors. My son and I started the lawn service while working with my church. We are able to maintain many lawns for people in need and at no cost to them. When RAFT came about, we made it part of our community outreach program. We qualify each client through our referral contacts.
How can people get involved with RAFT or donate to the organization? There are no volunteer needs at this time. But as a registered non profit 501(c)3 charitable organization, we welcome all gifts and donations. You can donate on our website: www.raftrecovery.com.
What’s next for you? No formal plans, just grateful enjoying life and family. When we’re not caring for and maintaining lawns, I do Texas Rangers appearances where I talk to different groups about my career, character development and healthy living skills.
How would you like to be remembered? Oh I don’t know, maybe as someone who was always looking for service opportunities in his community.
Ellis Valentine's Arm