BEAR, Del. – On the night this year’s New York Mets tried to top the 1986 team for the best start in franchise history, the star slugger from that era was again going deep.
With another sold-out crowd on hand at a Delaware church for the home-run champ, Darryl Strawberry took a swing for the heavens.
“Can you hear me? Amen!”
“Amen,” the congregation responded.
“Glory to God. Glory, glory to God.”
The former World Series champion takes road trips these days as a pastor, not to revisit tales of his baseball exploits that once helped make him one of the game’s highest paid players and an eight-time All-Star, but to chronicle his story of how faith and a strong woman saved him more than any intervention.
Strawberry has largely stripped himself of the past, the only reminder of his former profession shining through in testimonials about temptations that derailed his career and nearly cost him his life.
“I was a liar, I was a cheater, I was a womanizer, I was an alcoholic, I was a drug addict and I was a sinner,” Strawberry said.
But he’s still taking his cuts.
Strawberry has eschewed – for good, he says – the habits that derailed his career for renewed life as a pastor, husband and counsel to those who faced the same demons he faced for most of his adulthood.
The 53-year-old Strawberry has little interest in discussing the moon shoots that sailed high and far into so many of those Shea Stadium nights.
While this year’s Mets have stampeded their way toward first place in the N.L. East, Strawberry has ignored the standings.
“Not on my radar,” Strawberry said. “I follow Jesus now.”
Strawberry is more known for his personal failings than the stats that shaped him into one of the game’s elite players of the 1980s. He was a cocaine addict, and arrested for crimes ranging from soliciting a prostitute to domestic violence. He was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. He was charged with failing to make child support payments. He was suspended from baseball. He was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Strawberry was a mess.
For the more modern fan who never saw any of Strawberry’s 335 career home runs, he was Josh Hamilton times 10.
“How did I … the great Darryl Strawberry, four-time World Series champ, millions of dollars, end up T17169,” Strawberry told the congregation. “That’s a Florida state prison sentence.”
He told a few hundred worshippers at Glasgow Church that he traced his failings back to childhood and an abusive father.
“I grew up in a home where my father was an alcoholic, beat the crap out of me, told me I’d never amount to nothing,” Strawberry said.
Strawberry said he was 13 when he said his father pulled a shotgun on the family, forcing him to grab a frying a pan while his older brother wielded a butcher’s knife to scare him off. His father eventually left the family and that left a void in Strawberry’s life that he filled with copious amounts of booze and drugs. Strawberry routinely got high in the minor leagues and when the Mets called up their prized prospect in 1983, he instantly caved when he said a Mets veteran offered him cocaine on the 21-year-old rookie’s first road trip.
“I wanted to be part of what major league baseball was,” Strawberry said.
His career was littered with addiction, yet he still got multiple chances – his sweet swing packed with power always trumping his failings in landing jobs with the Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants over a 17-year career of mostly unfulfilled potential. He twice hit 39 homers, had 100 RBIs three times and led the Mets to their last World Series title in 1986.
He rarely found personal peace.
At the bottom of the heap, New York’s household name turned to religion and his wife.
Strawberry met his third wife, Tracy, also a recovering drug addict, at a narcotics center convention 15 years ago. She was clean; he was troubled.
After a rocky start – he fled their home in Missouri for a spell – they married in 2006 and now tour churches and prisons sharing their faith about 75 times a year. Strawberry cut the cord with baseball and founded, with Tracy, Strawberry Ministries and The Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center.
Relaxed in jeans, Strawberry was an invited guest of Chuck and Sharon Betters of MARKINC Ministries to describe his path from the Amazin’ Mets to amazing grace.
“It’s really not sharing a story. It’s a message from God,” Strawberry said. “God called me.”
Fans used to call him – taunt him, really – with derisive chants of “Darrr-ryl! Darrr-ryl! Darrr-ryl!” so much that he eventually voiced and spoofed himself as a teary-eyed right fielder in an episode of “The Simpsons.”
With the focus of a steel-eyed ballplayer, Strawberry only looks ahead these days, refusing to wonder if the next day will lead to a relapse.
“We don’t look at the old, that’s what we preach about,” Strawberry said. “You don’t look at it what it used to be, just what it is today.”
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