A Player Profile on Ellis Valentine

The first athlete ever signed out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles (2nd round, June 1972 amateur draft), Ellis Valentine was part of a trio of young Montreal Expo outfielders (with Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie) for whom stardom was predicted in the late 1970s. He produced three straight seasons of 20+ homeruns as the Expos everyday right fielder (including two inside-the-park homers in 1977). In 1978, he won a Gold Glove, leading NL outfielders with 24 assists. But on May 30, 1980 in the midst of his most productive season, and the Expos in the pennant race, he was hit in the face with a pitch and was out 40 days with a fractured cheekbone. He finished with a .315 average, 67 RBI, and 13 HR in just 86 games. The injury seemed to set into motion a string of medical problems and events that shortened the star's baseball career.

Still, you won't hear any regrets from this vibrant former major leaguer who greets every day like a gift and every child he meets as if he was a good friend. Currently a mainstay at clinics for BAD throughout Southern California, Ellis is committed to reaching and teaching as many children as possible, using baseball as "the hook to get the attention of kids who might otherwise never reach out for help." Beyond sports, Ellis is engaged full-time in the education of the whole person via daily family counseling, parenting classes, anger management and alcohol & drug education through A.V. Light Foundation, the family counseling organization he founded.

What led to this new career path was Ellis's own epiphany. Growing up in Los Angeles, he has very positive recollections of his childhood environment. Still, money was tight, and times got tough. Ellis, whose outstanding throwing arm was discovered when a coach (and family friend) caught him throwing rocks, was encouraged to play ball as a way to escape the tight economic restraints of his youth. "I was told to keep playing sports," states Valentine, "and that money would fix everything." Ellis followed this advice and if he wasn't home, his mother would drive around the neighborhood checking out all the baseball fields where she would eventually find him.

Money didn't fix everything of course. "I was naive about life and when struggles presented themselves, I unfortunately chose to deal with them by medicating myself with drugs, alcohol, or erratic behavior. After baseball, I had to deal with those issues. In 1986, a year after I retired, I did some work on myself. I saw myself living another 40 years but I couldn't keep living it that way. I got myself some real good help and it turned my life around. I've been trying to do it with others ever since."

What is it that separates Ellis from other high profile celebrities whose battles with drugs and alcohol have been well documented? He credits part of it to his rock-solid upbringing. He felt safe and secure growing up and perhaps it is that foundation, along with the influence of his devoted wife Karen, that have helped him to make his way back. However, the most powerful motivators for Ellis seem to be the experiences of loss and humility. He firmly believes many of these celebrities in question have not been removed from their environments for a significant period of time to make them realize the difference.

"Before baseball, my only job was shining shoes. I was clearly not prepared for life after baseball. My first job after retiring was driving rental cars for Avis for $4.25 per hour. But I needed that humility. When you lose things very early on, you can still recoup. A lot of these guys haven't suffered real loss. It's very difficult for a guy to humble himself out of rehab when he's offered another million-dollar contract. Where is the loss? Without loss, their lives never change, and the light never comes on. You can have the tools to play baseball or to entertain people, but if the inner tools are inoperable, what does it matter?"

The light came on for Ellis Valentine after his baseball career ended. His foundation is an affiliate group of Character Counts and teaches their "Pillars of Character," which include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Ellis is direct about his goals, especially concerning young people. "I believe if I can help you be a better person, then you'll be a better ballplayer. That's where my focus is. We need to educate young people that everything you do in life has a price tag. If you never pay the price for your actions, what motivation is there to stop? It creates repetitive, problematic individuals who are prepped and primed to repeat that behavior."

Ellis admits he misses the art of the game of baseball and great "artists" like his childhood idol, Bob Gibson. But it seems quite obvious that this Valentine's heart beats steadily to the rhythm of humor and optimism, as he continues to reach out and help others find their way. "People tell me I could have played for 20 years - they like to throw darts at me √but I played for 13 and every day I get up I am grateful because I could have been dead‹I should have been dead. But it's like Yogi Berra says, 'when you get to that fork in the road—take it!'"

A.V. Light Foundation is located at: 816 Lancaster Blvd. Lancaster, CA 93534 Phone (661) 949-1448


P.O. Box 1438 Simi Valley, CA 93062 | 805-583-1439 | homerun@bad.org