Darryl Strawberry was doing a wonderful job at this holiday event many years ago for Alliance Building Services, a New York based company. Darryl is a natural when it comes to making people feel comfortable and telling stories about the 1986 World Champion Mets.
Destined to have his own ministry in the near future, Strawberry was delivering his best and signing hundreds of autographs.
Gary Green, hosting the event for his workers at Alliance, did not know Strawberry but had hired other New York athletes in the past for the event, people like the Knicks’ John Starks. He went over to talk with Strawberry when a friend of Green’s proudly pointed out Green was such a huge fan of Darryl’s that he purchased Strawberry‘s 1983 NL Rookie of the Year Award.
At that point, the 6’6” Strawberry hovered over Green and asked: “Where did you get that? That was stolen from my mom’s house.’’
Green quickly explained he had purchased the award at auction. Strawberry then said, “I want to buy that from you. How much can I pay you for it?’’
“Me, being the ultimate ’86 Mets fan,’’ Green told BallNIne, “it was very easy for me to say: ‘It belongs to you, Darryl. It doesn’t belong to me. I’m giving it to you. It’s my pleasure to return it to you.’ ’’
And just like that, a friendship was born.
“Minor League Baseball has a lot of kids getting indoctrinated into the game. It’s fun and it also has distractions from the game, because let’s face it – when you are young, nine innings – that’s a long time.’’
Strawberry responded in kind, telling Green, “Whatever you need from me, seeing clients, golf, whatever, I’m there for you.’’
This all happened about 18 years ago and Green says now: “It’s really a great story of doing something nice and getting paid back a thousand times over because Darryl is one of my best friends. He has helped me land so much business and we have just such a strong relationship outside of him being a ballplayer. Whatever home runs he has missed out on, his life laid out the way it was supposed to because he is now in a position to save lives and he wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
That is so well said about Strawberry’s amazing ministry.
Since that time, Green’s footprint in baseball has grown much larger and here at BallNine we love all different kinds of baseball stories – and that is why Gary Green is the subject of this week’s The Story.
Just last week Green was returning from vacation with his wife, journalist Amy Heart. Their plane had just landed in New York when Gary got a call from Darryl, saying he was going to be at Citi Field that night, meeting with Steve Cohen and he wanted Green to come to the game.
“I look at my wife and she immediately says no but I hand her the phone and say, ‘Hey Darryl wants to speak to you.
`“Who can say no to Darryl Strawberry?’’
Green goes to the game and it wasn’t just any game. It was the combined no-hitter against the Phillies.
“I’ve always had a dream of seeing a Mets no-hitter,’’ said Green, who was born in Manhasset, N.Y. and went to Great Neck North High School. “I missed (Johan) Santana’s a few years back, to sit at a no-hitter at Citi Field with Darryl watching it was so cool. I also was happy that he got to meet with Steve Cohen, I wasn’t there for that but Darryl really enjoyed it.’’
Cohen has done so many things right and you can be sure that in the future the ’86 World Championship Mets, Green noted, will be celebrated in a bigger fashion than in the past and that will be another fantastic move by Cohen.
Darryl Strawberry (left) with Gary Green.
Green, 56, is the proud owner of three minor league franchises, the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels and Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. He remains a Mets fan and was at a charity event at Steve Cohen’s house last summer when he suddenly found himself on Cohen’s pickle ball court standing next to new Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor.
At that point it was rough going for Lindor as a Met with the “thumbs down’’ affair when Lindor, Javier Baez and Kevin Pillar had given thumbs down to Mets fans after getting hits, essentially booing the fans.
Not a smart move.
But at that moment, Green had an opportunity to speak with Lindor from the heart, as a Mets fan, and help him understand the makeup of Mets fans. Don’t forget Lindor had come over from Cleveland where baseball life is a lot different and was trying to figure things out with the Mets.
“I said to Lindor, ‘Look, you don’t know me, but I’ve been a Mets fan my whole life and you probably feel that from the other day (the thumbs down affair), there is no coming back from that; but let me tell you, when you win, there is no better fan base to win in front of and all you need to do is have a good game or two and those boos will turn into a standing ovation,’’’ Green explained to Lindor.
“Lindor was like, ‘I know, I know I messed up because I just want to do well here. This is what I needed to hear.’’’
This year the Mets and Lindor are getting standing ovations with their terrific start and in that brief moment, Green gave Lindor the opportunity to see how Mets fans really think. Green knows baseball. He also knows Minor League Baseball is the heart and soul of the game.
“Minor League Baseball has a lot of kids getting indoctrinated into the game,’’ Green said. “It’s fun and it also has distractions from the game – because let’s face it – when you are young, nine innings, that’s a long time.’’
With that comment alone you can tell Green understands his audience and that is the first step to success.
Gary Green at Citi Field. (Photo via University of Vermont)
“If we could provide entertainment with the backdrop of baseball we could entertain the hardcore baseball fan, the casual baseball fan, and what I call the FOMO fan, the fan that needs to be in a community place because they are with their friends and the fear of missing out in a social environment. And then throw in the family entertainment, the kids getting indoctrinated into the game – and the parents who don’t want their kids’ eyes in front of a (video) screen – and are thrilled they are actually watching sports and playing in a playground like we have in minor league baseball.
“In Omaha we have a basketball court, a Wiffle ball field and a huge playground and then there is the access to the players, and that really doesn’t happen enough in MLB. It kind of used to be that way in spring training but spring training has kind of gotten away from that now, just that access, that is why minor league baseball is important and is really the way to grow the game with young people.’’
Green has his finger on the pulse of what makes minor league baseball so special. He is not afraid to try something new. To that end, he also owns a soccer team in Omaha, the Union Omaha in the United Soccer League, and is teaming with Jet Linx Aviation, founded in Omaha with a flagship terminal in Tererboro, NJ, and will share that experience with fans in the “Fly Like An Owner’’ sweepstakes that will send two fans from both Omaha teams to accompany Green on a private Jet Linx plane to road games with the owner.
How cool is that?
Remember, Green is a fan first and noted, “As a sports fan, when I became a team owner it was a dream come true. I am excited to share that feeling with lucky Storm Chasers and Union Omaha fans and am appreciative of the partnership with Jet Linx to make that possible.’’
By the way, Green purchased the Omaha Storm Chasers from Warren Buffett with Buffett recognizing Green’s passion for the game. Green also owns the publication “Baseball America,’’ purchasing the Bible of Baseball in 2017.
He understands the game from many perspectives.
Minor League Baseball has been through some rough patches lately, but Green said, “Minor League Baseball is strong and one of the reasons is that Major League Baseball has taken it over. I know MLB gets a hard time in the media but the guys at the MLB offices on 6th Avenue are very smart when it comes to growing the game, understanding what’s wrong with the game and making sure things get corrected. We used to have oversight from a separate organization in St. Petersburg and having MLB take it over, some of the (minor league) owners were wary of it, and change is always tough but I think that is one thing going forward that is great for Minor League Baseball.
“As far as the cutting of (minor league) teams, the cities that lost affiliated baseball pretty much got Independent League Baseball so I think the hardcore baseball fans understand the difference and that is important to them, but I think really, people just want to be in a baseball environment and Independent Leagues are really good for a lot of cities. I don’t think the elimination of teams really impacts it like people thought it would.’’
Gary Green (KENT SIEVERS/THE OMAHA WORLD-HERALD)
Whether you agree with Green or not, he is looking at it from the point of owning three minor league teams in three different parts of the country and then makes this important point.
“Independent Leagues can have more freedom and entertainment,’’ Green said.
I am currently re-reading the classic book about baseball owner Bill Veeck entitled Veeck – as in Wreck. Every owner should read this book that was written 60 years ago. Veeck took the ultimate entertainment approach to the game and was not afraid to laugh at himself or the game, witnessed by his one-time use of pinch-hitter Eddie Gaedel in 1951. Gaedel stood about three feet shorter than Darryl Strawberry and Veeck was able to officially sign him to a St. Louis Browns contract for his pinch-hit appearance and subsequent walk, a brilliant public relations move.
Green’s company got the cleaning contract for Citi Field when the ballpark opened.
“We were one of 15 companies and we had Darryl Strawberry come in and help pitch it,’’ Green explained. “Darryl was one of the reasons.’’
Green also put together the ESPN 30 for 30 with Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry called Doc & Darryl.
“That was my project,’’ Green told me. “Doc and Darryl didn’t really trust anybody with their story and they trusted me to put it together. I worked with (director) Judd Apatow and his company to put that together. That was interesting. And the one that came after, the four-parter, (Once Upon a Time in Queens) I was a little jealous because I thought that one was better. Mine was good but theirs was better.’’
Once Upon a Time in Queens dealt with a much bigger Mets picture and those ’86 Mets are so captivating to this day, partly because that was a team that would not run from a fight with anyone, including each other, but it also was the last Mets team to win a championship.
As for Baseball America, way back when, decades before Green owned it, I did a cover piece for them on Point Loma Nazarene University’s baseball field entitled: “America’s Most Scenic Ballpark.’’
“They’ve always had great coverage but it was kind of a reclamation project,’’ Green said, pointing out how difficult life is for print publications.
“We needed very quickly to change it from a print publication to a print/digital publication,’’ Green said. “Getting someone who is older to switch from print to digital is difficult, but we are really doing well now. We’re coming out with our own brand of baseball cards for minor leaguers. We’re getting into different product lines but more importantly we are growing our subscriber base. We are growing our social media base. People love us and MLB loves us because we are independent of MLB.’’
Baseball America covers future stars like Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso long before they make their mark in the major leagues.
And that leads us to one final story about the many facets of Green’s baseball life and also gives great insight into Alonso.
“I sat with Pete Alonso at the Mets’ Welcome Home dinner a couple of years ago, I told him who I was, that I owned Baseball America,’’ Green explained.
“He was like: ‘Love you guys, love the way you cover Minor League Baseball … Why didn’t you think I could hit a curve ball?’ ’’
And so it goes.
“For all the fun of owning minor league baseball teams, owning Baseball America has been really interesting,’’ Green added. “You know Reggie Jackson.’’
I sure do know Reggie and he can be a tough nut when he first meets you, but also can be so engaging.
“I met him in spring training through Ray Negron,’’ Green explained. “When Reggie learns I own Baseball America he wound up talking to me for an hour about rule changes and why the players are not more involved and what are we going to do to report that.’’
That is the beauty of baseball.
From Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson on down, everyone has an opinion about baseball and Gary Green sees the game from so many fascinating perspectives.