The title of Darryl Strawberry’s new book really says it all.
About his life. His growing ministry. And even his old team, the Mets, who drafted Strawberry with the first overall pick of the 1980 draft, the start of something great that culminated with the 1986 World Series victory.
Turn Your Season Around. How God Transforms Your Life.
Strawberry, 58, has been able to turn his seasons of life around in what is one of baseball’s more inspirational stories.
“I’ve been having such a great time helping other people,’’ Strawberry told BallNine. “I see the importance and the urgency of people hurting and people needing help. I’m thankful that God gave me grace and mercy. He spared me and allowed me to still be here after drug addiction, after prison, after two failed marriages, after cancer twice and losing my left kidney and I’m still going strong. And still being able to be on a platform to encourage others.’’
That is where his strength is best put to use these days. Towering home runs used to be his calling card.
This Darryl is nothing like the old Darryl. Faith works wonders. Strawberry is a pastor who is changing lives for the better.
Those are his towering home runs now.
“It makes me feel that I am fulfilling the promises that were made over my life that I didn’t know that God gave me,’’ said the eight-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year.
Strawberry was on the cover of Sports Illustrated seven times.
“I just ended up doing it later in my life after my career was over. I wish I was the man that I am today playing baseball – and fulfilling the baseball promises of my life – but I wasn’t because my journey was completely broken, completely dysfunctional and it was kind of running wild with great talent and not knowing who you are.’’
Strawberry told me the scars from childhood affected him. “It left me with a lot of deep wounds that never got healed putting on the uniform. The uniform just covered up my pain.’’
That is a telling comment and his latest book, written with Lee Weeks, already is No. 1 on Baseball Biographies.
“I’m not Darryl Strawberry the baseball player no more,’’ he told me. “I’m not Darryl Strawberry the womanizer no more. I’m not Darryl Strawberry out drinking and in strip clubs and doing drugs and stuff like that. I am not that person anymore and it’s real, and I think a lot of players wish they could get to this place, but you have to make a commitment to change your lifestyle.’’
The race had to be run the way he ran it to get to this part of the journey.
“People looked at the talent I had,’’ Strawberry said, “and what I achieved and of course they think ‘Well, had he not went down the wrong road what could he have achieved?’ They only see it from a baseball part. God saw if from a different perspective. Had I not went through the trouble and played more I probably would have made another $80 million and I’d probably be sitting somewhere pretty rich right now and not knowing God. So which one would you choose?
“I would choose God.
Darryl Strawberry with the New York Mets. (PHOTO: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
“I know it’s far greater than money. It’s far greater than fame. I know it is far greater than anything I have ever achieved from a worldly standpoint. With him I know that the eternal part of my life is far greater than my earthly life.’’
I joked with Strawberry that the New York baseball writers prepared him for this part of his life and his ability to open his heart and tell his story. He laughed and said, “You know they did. I stay close to a lot of them and they saw the change in me, guys like Marty Noble did, bless his heart, he passed away but some of them are probably still looking on the outside and saying, ‘What happened to him?’ “
Here is what happened. Strawberry took the time to listen.
“I’ll have a conversation with you,’’ he explained.
Strawberry’s baseball roots run deep, and as for the baseball version of Turn Your Season Around, Straw loves what the Mets are doing under new owner Steve Cohen with the additions on shortstop Francisco Lindor, catcher James McCann and more on the horizon. There is a resurgence in Flushing and their World Series odds are surging as well..
“I just didn’t have the guts to find out why they are living this way. After many years, after your career is over you realized they lived that way because they had character…’’
One of the great accomplishments of Strawberry’s Mets was the ability to connect with the fans. When he offers these words about the Mets fans, it comes straight from the heart.
“I’m very excited for what they are doing, I haven’t been this excited in a long time for the New York Mets,’’ he said. “The new ownership understands the importance of Mets fans. They are such good fans and they have suffered for years and years. The Mets were a one-year hit (2015). In the 80s fans loved that we were in contention every year. People talked about us being crazy, yes, but guess what, we were in contention every year. Had there been a wild card we would have been in the playoffs every year.’’
That is such a smart point.
There was the glory of 1986 and the heartbreak of the 1988 loss to the Dodgers in the NLCS. I was there for that series and the stunning Game 4 defeat when Mike Scioscia, who was not a home run hitter, lined a two-run home run to right in the ninth inning off Dwight Gooden to tie the game at Shea Stadium.
To this day I have never heard a ballpark get so quiet, so fast, as that night in the four-hour, 29-minute marathon won by the Dodgers in the 12th inning. The Dodgers won the series in seven games, going on to win the World Championship in striking manner.
The new version of Darryl Strawberry bears little resemblance to the Straw of old. (PHOTO: CHRIS MACHIAN / THE WORLD-HERALD)
Kirk Gibson won Game 4 in the 12th with a home run off a Roger McDowell sinker over Strawberry’s head in right. Four games later in Game 1 of the World Series against the heavily-favored A’s, after a ninth-inning two-out walk to Mike Davis, a gimpy Gibson dropped the head of his bat on a Dennis Eckersley backup slider for that legendary Dodgers victory.
I was there for that home run too. Dodger Stadium went crazy. The Dodgers didn’t win another World Series until this past season.
For all of the Mets’ talent, their rose only bloomed once over an amazing seven-year span.
From 1984 through the 1990 season, the Mets averaged 95 victories but only were in the postseason twice coming away with that one World Series win and that seven-game NLCS loss.
It was a much different time.
No wild card. East champion vs. West champion. That’s it. It started in 1984 when the Mets won 90 games and finished second to the Cubs who won 96. In 1985 the Mets won 98 games but the Cardinals won 101. In ’87 the Mets won 92 games, the Cardinals won 95. In 1989 – yet another second place finish – this time to the Cubs, who won 93 games while the Mets won 87. In 1990 it was the Pirates’ turn to beat the Mets in the NL East, winning 95 games to the Mets 91 victories.
Tracy and Darryl Strawberry. (PHOTO: Strawberry Ministries)
Those Mets were the dynasty that never happened because it was first place or go home baseball life.
Now if your team just has a pulse come October, you’re in the postseason.
In the end, Strawberry has four World Series rings, one with the Mets and three as part of the Yankees, but the trial and tribulations were many. In 1996 Strawberry had to take a run with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League to get back to where he wanted to be as a player.
In his time with the Saints, Strawberry crushed a 522-foot home run against the Duluth-Superior Dukes at Wade Stadium, a relic that was built in 1941. Straw blasted 335 home runs over his 17-year career and another nine in the postseason.
But I’ve always wanted to ask him about that St. Paul Saints home run. It’s Baseball or Bust here. This is what Strawberry had to say.
“I just remember that the ballpark was so bad and it was so dark,’’ Strawberry said, “that when I hit the ball, I hit it so far and it just kept going. I lost it.’’
Imagine that. Literally losing a baseball because you hit it so far. What a feeling, no matter the level of baseball.
Strawberry then offered a laugh, “I would say that’s shame on me for being down there and torturing those little kids, hitting home runs like that.’’
Strawberry’s comeback was complete in the ALCS that October against the Orioles when Strawberry lifted three home runs with that sweetest of left-handed swings and batted .417 as the Yankees beat Baltimore in five games. In 1998 and ’99 there were World Series titles as well with the Yankees, a huge run of success.
After heading across town to The Bronx, Straw won three more World Series rings. (PHOTO: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Looking back on his Mets days and where he is now as a person and a pastor, Strawberry said he was lucky to have teammates like Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson. Both men walked the walk. In all It was some trip for Strawberry, eight years with the Mets, three with the Dodgers, one with the Giants and five with the Yankees.
A Saint to a pastor.
“It’s really good to be be able to do real life,’’ Strawberry said of his work now, so happy to be where he is with his wonderful wife Tracy. “Looking back over the career and seeing the life of Gary Carter and the life of Mookie Wilson. Those are two lives I will never forget how they lived. Not just being a baseball player but how they actually lived.
“I was always impressed with that, I just didn’t have the guts to find out why they are living this way. After many years, after your career is over you realized they lived that way because they had character, they had Christ in their hearts and they lived from the Biblical principles. They didn’t live outside of that and I think that is such an incredible way to live when you are in that lifestyle.’’
“They just had such great inner peace inside of themselves while the rest of us were just crazy at times,’’ Strawberry said of those Mets. “These guys never wavered from who they were. Things were said about Carter a lot by players. He was drinking milk and we were drinking alcohol and you get drunk and you act stupid.
“When you have a life at that level, being a professional athlete and everything is so fast and so many moving pieces in that lifestyle, trying to get better at who you are as a player and trying to get successful, more money and bigger contracts, everybody is fighting for all different levels. I just saw Carter with such great peace at who he was everyday coming to the ballpark, and it wasn’t like every other day, it was Every. Day. That’s a big difference in what life is really all about. And Mookie was the same. They didn’t change. They didn’t waver. Good, bad or indifferent they were still the same person.’’
Pure truth. Carter came to the Mets in the big trade with the Expos on December 10, 1984. Wilson came up through the system like first-round picks Strawberry and Gooden. Mookie was a second-round pick in 1977.
“I hope the Mets get back to building the farm system, that’s the key,’’ Strawberry said. “Mets fans are awesome when they have something to come to the ballpark and cheer for and they haven’t had a lot, a moment here, a moment there. They went to the World Series in 2015 but didn’t win and the next year they were nowhere in sight and I think that frustrates the fans. It’s way overdue. Hopefully 2021 will be a turnaround for them.’’
Strawberry lives near St. Louis and sees how the country needs to come together. There has to be healing.
“The nation is broken, it’s divided,’’ he said, putting our country in perspective. “The healing comes from God. The healing comes from not people in the political arena because they don’t really care about the fact who people are because if they did, they would get along and learn how to be kind to each other… and I think they don’t know how to be kind to each other and learn how to work together.
“People out here are suffering. People out here are struggling and trying to find real direction. People out here are committing all kind of crimes and bad behaviors because they are broken,’’ he said with passion in his voice. “Lawlessness brings about brokenness. This is a broken generation of young people and if they don’t have any foundation of real Biblical principles, guess what, they are going to go out there and do what they do. They are going to act like wild animals and run wild.
“I try to tell the kids don’t start with drugs, don’t start with alcohol, don’t start with vaping,’’ Strawberry said. “Don’t start with what others do because you see it on social media, because they believe it’s a cool thing. Find your identity in who you are and like who you are. You don’t have to fit in. I think that’s the problem with too many of us. We want to fit in. We want people to idolize what athletes and celebrities are doing. That’s not always good. God created you. You are very unique. You are very special. Be you.
“Likes mean nothing,’’ he said of social media. “You don’t even know who is on the other side of your likes. Why be concerned about that? Be more concerned about the destiny that you have and the life that you really want to live and make the best out of it. The thing is we only get one shot at all this and we don’t know how long we are going to be here. Make the best out of it. God has given us all grace that we don’t deserve, so why not make the best of it? That’s what came to in my life. I’m not wasting my life on foolishness no more.
“People are going to say, ‘Oh yeah, well he’s gone God crazy.’ I’d rather be God crazy than be foolishness and living like a fool.’’
The foolishness days are long gone.
“I know a lot of people looking from the outside and saying, ‘Oh, is he really real.’ That’s what they said when I started 18 years ago on this journey and now, writing this book, Turn Your Season Around, probably the best book written with God’s principles on how to live and how it really changes your life,’’ Strawberry said.
Change your life. Turn Your Season Around.
Darryl Strawberry is a living example of the wonder of it all.