The answer Darryl Strawberry gave when asked if he took pride in his baseball accomplishments surprised me.
Then again, it didn’t.
Strawberry, who spent 17 seasons in the big leagues with the Mets, Dodgers, Giants and Yankees, is a preacher now. He associates baseball too much with his struggles to take much pride.
Strawberry will be in Wichita this weekend to spread his passion for the ministry while making appearances at the Hereford House on Saturday from 6-8 p.m. as part of a fundraiser for Shepherds Fold Ministries, and on Sunday at the First Church of the Nazarene, 1400 E. Kellogg, at 10:45 a.m.
“The message is Jesus and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell,” said Strawberry, whose baseball career started in 1983 when he was chosen National League rookie of the year with the Mets. But his personal life soon began to unravel as he was plagued with addictions, abuse, divorces, cancer and incarceration. “I’ve been called on and I preach the cross and for people to come and repent, change their ways and live an abundant life.”
Strawberry, 54, hit 335 homers during his major league career, was an eight-time All-Star and helped the Mets beat Boston to win the 1986 World Series. He was a part of two World Series winners with the Yankees late in his career. Recently, Strawberry was the subject of the ESPN Films 30 For 30 documentary “Doc and Darryl” about his relationship with former Mets and Yankees teammate Dwight Gooden, who faced his own demons as a player and beyond.
“Reconnecting with Dwight was a familiar place,” Strawberry said. “We were teammates, but everybody in the New York area tried to make it out like we were the best of friends. We really weren’t; my best friend was Eric Davis, who I grew up with. But I really wanted to do that film with Dwight, to sit down with him and see where he’s at and about the life we went through together.”
Strawberry was the first pick in the 1980 MLB draft. Raised in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, he possessed a powerful yet sweet left-handed swing that often produced moon shots. It was almost as if baseball was too easy for him.
Life wasn’t. Too often, it was out of his control. He was arrested for soliciting sex from a policewoman posing as a prostitute in 1999. He also faced charges of failing to make child support payments and had addictions to drugs and alcohol.
“The documentary brought major awareness to the nation about how athletes at the height of their career, about how drugs and alcohol can ruin your career, your life,” Strawberry said. “The 30 For 30 was very powerful because it was true. I see so many people losing control of their lives. People need to realize that life is short. What is the purpose of your life? I think it shows in that film with all I went through and here is a man who finally finds his purpose.”
Strawberry credits his third wife, Tracy, with having a big part in his turnaround. They met at a drug recovery convention and travel together as ministers.
“Tracy, we got together about 13 years ago and she led me back to the cross,” Strawberry said. “Back to the church. That’s when my whole life changed. It made me look at myself, it made me look at removing the uniform of playing baseball and becoming a man who could learn. From that point, I changed forever. But it wasn’t an overnight situation. A lot of people look for that instant gratification. But this is a process and Tracy taught me how to walk with God. I learned to trust Him, learned the biblical principles and there it was. I was called and I started to study like crazy.”
Strawberry said his ministry is designed to deal with people who face struggles similar to his. He says he has faced hopelessness and that only his belief has pulled him from that despair.
“The greatest gift in my life is being able to follow Jesus Christ,” Strawberry said. “And New York, despite people might think, was a great place for me, my life and the way things happened. It was supposed to happen the way it did because otherwise I would never be who I am today. A lot of times people sit back with regrets and they can’t be happy or do well.”
My question to Strawberry about having pride his baseball career was direct. His answer was, too.
“I don’t harken back to that time, I never look back,” Strawberry said. “I don’t even like baseball — the only time I go back is for a championship team anniversary. When I’m in New York, I hardly ever go to a ballgame. I don’t watch sports on TV.”
Strawberry does pay attention to the sports his kids play. His son, D.J., was a basketball player at Arizona. His daughter, Jade, plays volleyball at Connecticut. Son, Jordan, is a junior basketball player at Mercer and youngest daughter, Jewell, is a freshman volleyball player at Boston College.
“But, no, I don’t like being around baseball players,” he said. “They don’t have anything to talk about except baseball and I don’t talk baseball. I talk about the kingdom and I talk about healthy people and baseball is not going to do anything for me.
“Pride in my accomplishments as a baseball player? No, that’s all dead and gone. I have no desire to say I did this and I did that. I had fun as a baseball player but that guy no longer lives. I’m a different person.”