“Darryl Strawberry—finally finding ‘His Way’"
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Greg Rummo has an M.S. in chemistry and an M.B.A in financial management. He is the CEO of New Chemic (US) Inc. and a columnist with North Jersey Media Group. His weekly column, “View from the Grass Roots” appears Sundays in The Suburban Trends. He is also the author of 5 books, a chronological series of commentaries on American Culture which include previously published columns and feature articles. Four of his books, all titled “The View from the Grass Roots,” are available as free downloads from iTunes.
“I am the man I am today because I didn’t quit… because of God’s love.” –Darryl Strawberry
To see Darryl Strawberry in person is to see an impressive man. His presence fills a room—literally—whether it’s a church lobby where he’s signing copies of his New York Times bestselling book,“Straw, Finding My Way,” or speaking from behind the pulpit in an expansive sanctuary—his new stomping grounds of late.
He’s 6-foot 6 inches tall and has a huge pair of hands. It’s easy to understand how these factors made him one of the most intimidating sluggers in baseball. The combination of his reach and power allowed him to jack home run after home run into the stands during his career with both the Mets and the Yankees.
His swing was effortless—it was almost like he wasn’t trying. But when he made contact, and it was often, the baseball jumped off his bat. He buried most home runs deep into the upper deck. After one monstrous shot ricocheted off the inside of the roof of Toronto’s Sky Dome, Mets’ manager Davey Johnson said it was the hardest hit baseball he had ever seen.
But that’s all in his past now. It was almost 14 years ago when he finally hit rock bottom. He was $3 million in debt, addicted to crack and shooting heroin. He had literally lost everything including his driver’s license.
Then God got a hold of his heart.
On Good Friday I was among the almost 800 men at a sold out breakfast hosted by Jacksonville Chapel in Lincoln Park to hear Strawberry tell in his own words about his dramatic rise and fall from stardom; as a slugger in the major leagues to alcoholism, drug addiction, incarceration, thoughts of suicide and ultimate redemption.
“It’s a story of rags to riches to rags to the riches of God’s grace, says Rev. Paul Rittinger, Jacksonville Chapel’s Pastor of Care.
Strawberry was raised in an abusive home but his fortunes changed when, in 1980 as an 18-year old,he became the New York Mets’ first-round draft pick. “My father was a raging alcoholic [who used to] beat the crap out of me and [tell] me I was nothing,” he said.
Strawberry thought he had it all. But despite his enormous talent, after just one year playing minor league baseball, he almost gave up. “There were so many racial slurs hurled at me as a minor league player I almost quit,” he said. But Mets’ management urged him to give it one more year.
Strawberry went on to become the 1982 Double A Texas League MVP.
The following year he played Triple A baseball for just one month before being called up to the majors. He hit 26 home runs, 7 triples 74 RBIs and batted .257 for the Mets and was named the National League Rookie of the Year.
But it was during his first year in the big leagues that he was introduced to cocaine in the lavatory at the rear of the team’s aircraft by a teammate who to this day he refuses to name. “You’re in ‘The Big Leagues’ now,” his teammate said, offering Strawberry what would be the first of many lines of cocaine to follow.
Along with the drugs came the nightclub scene. “These guys were all married back home. Here we were in another city surrounded by women,” he said.
“I had told myself I would never be like my father. Eventually I became what I said I would never become—an alcoholic and a womanizer.”
Despite the drugs and alcohol, Strawberry managed to play baseball. “If I had known how good I was, I would have taken better care of myself,” he joked. “I’d get very little sleep, sometimes getting to bed at 4:00 AM. Then I’d wake up and pop ‘two greenies’ [amphetamines].”
“My addiction took me completely away from my life,” he said. It ultimately led to his arrest, conviction and incarceration where he served 11 months of an 18-month prison sentence. Prior to his sentencing the judge asked him, “Mr. Strawberry, what would you like me to do with you?”
“I don’t care,” he replied. “I’d rather be dead.”
After his release from prison, his time was spent in and out of drug rehabilitation centers in south Florida. Through it all he wondered why he couldn’t overcome his addiction. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked himself again and again. “I’m a good person. Why can’t I get well?”
“There was something I was hiding from. I never came to the place of dealing with my hurts… my scars… my issues.”
“There I was, The Great Darryl Strawberry… but as a man I didn’t know how to live… I had not been taught by a father.”
He finally met Tracy, the woman who is now his wife. She was a recovering drug addict who had recently become a Christian. She dedicated herself to pulling him out of crack houses, all the while telling him “God has a plan for you.”
Eleven years ago they left the drug scene in south Florida for St. Louis. “I didn’t want to go to St. Louis—there’s no black people there.” He joked.
Still not married, they moved into the basement of Tracy’s parent’s house. But God had been working in Tracy’s heart too. Through study of the scriptures and attendance at a local church, there was a growing conviction that living together was wrong.
Finally she told Darryl, “We’re not having sex no more. We’re gonna’ start living right.”
This was too much for Strawberry who replied, “I’m leaving.” Confused, he headed back to California from where he was originally and moved in with his sister and her kids. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I needed to find God.”
It wasn’t too long after that when he opened his Bible and God spoke to his heart, saying, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I stopped drugging. I stopped having sex. I went to church. I let the Holy Spirit teach me and disciple me,” he said. “I didn’t care anymore about this ‘famous’ stuff.’ I just wanted to know about Jesus.”
Six months later he returned to St. Louis and married Tracy.
Holding up his Bible, he said, “When I got this book, this is what I was looking for my whole life.”
Strawberry explained that it was a “change of mind set” coupled with “The Book of Life” that changed him for good. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” he said quoting John 10:10 but “[Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Strawberry maintains, “I’m not a victim. I’m an overcomer—by the ‘blood of the lamb.’”
As men, we need to take our rightful place in Christ… not living in the regrets of the past … but walking in faith, not by feelings.” Quoting Romans 12:21, he added, “Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil by good.”
Darryl Strawberry and his wife, Tracy, both ordained ministers, live in St. Peters, Missouri. Together they run Strawberry Ministries, an organization dedicated to “restoring lives and relationships.” To learn more, visit strawberryministries.org
Greg Rummo is a businessman, columnist and the author of 5 books in the “View from the Grass Roots” series of commentaries on American Culture, 4 of which are available as free downloads from iTunes.
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