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Strawberry: my life after baseball

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Darryl Strawberry talks about his time as a professional baseball player (Photograph by Lawrence Trott)

Darryl Strawberry’s troubles off the baseball field were just as well documented as his exploits on it as one of the top sluggers in the game during a 17-year career.

But all of that is behind him now, the good times and the bad, as Strawberry has a new life as an evangelical born-again Christian.

Strawberry, an ordained minister, was a guest speaker at the World Alternative Investment Summit Bermuda, hosted by Radius Financial Education, at the Fairmont Southampton this week. While he was being introduced yesterday, clips of some of his career highlights were shown on a big screen, including his first Major League Baseball hit and home run.

It brought back memories, no doubt, for Strawberry, who began his career with New York Mets in 1983, where he played until 1990, before also playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1991-1993, San Francisco Giants in 1994 and New York Yankees from 1995 to 1999. His career highlights include winning four World Series titles (1986, 1996, 1998, 1999) and being named the National League Rookie of the Year.

In 1987, Strawberry hit 39 home runs and stole 36 bases, joining the exclusive “30-30 club”. At the time he was one of only ten players in baseball history to accomplish the feat. The next year he again hit 39 homers to lead the National League and finish a close second in the MVP voting to Kirk Gibson, of the Dodgers.

“He’s the greatest home-run hitter Shea Stadium has ever seen,” the commentator boasted during the footage. For Strawberry, it is all in the past now, even the lucrative five-year, $22.25?million contract he signed with the Dodgers in 1990. He was 28 at the time and by the end of the 1991 season he had 280 lifetime home runs and was drawing comparisons to Hank Aaron, who held the major league home-run record for 33 years.

“It’s really good to be here, good to be anywhere,” Strawberry told the audience. “That was baseball there, but I really don’t talk a lot about baseball any more; I really don’t even like baseball. I know this is an investment conference but my thing was to come and encourage people to invest in their life, their faith and who they are. My life has been tremendously changed by God and my faith is in God in everything I do.”

Finding God has enabled Strawberry to put life in perspective, after he hit several lows in the 1990s when his batting numbers started to decline after 1991. He was released by the Dodgers in 1994 and signed with the Giants, where he had limited playing time.

A suspension in 1995 for testing positive for cocaine, before he found himself back with the Yankees in 1996, showing flashes of his former self by hitting 11 home runs in a part-time role and helping his team to win the World Series that year.

In 1998 he hit 24 home runs in helping the Yankees to win the World Series, playing 100 games in a season for the first time since 1991. Strawberry also had colon cancer diagnosed in 1998, the first of two times he was stricken with cancer.

“I was rich, I was famous, had millions of dollars, homes, cars, stuff but was a liar and cheater,” Strawberry admitted.

“I had a bunch of stuff but was never complete on the inside. I had plenty of money, so I’m not here to talk about money.

“I always wondered why I was not happy, I accumulated fame and fortune but was still not happy on the inside.

“I come from a broken situation; my dad was an alcoholic. My pain led to my greatness and my greatness would eventually lead me to destructive behaviour in my life.

“I was always hurting inside, even when I played Major League baseball and had all that stuff. I went through the process of not being happy, just wearing the uniform and playing. I would go on for years and years, just broken and empty inside.

“I tried to fill myself with everything ... drugs, alcohol, women and money. I remember when I signed the $20 million contract after eight years in the Major Leagues and had already made $8 million. I was miserable because my life was falling apart, I was losing my first marriage and losing my kids.”

Strawberry added: “It didn’t amount to anything, it was just a bunch of stuff, and I accumulated a bunch of stuff over the years. I had to hit bottom and I really shouldn’t be here, God spared my life. He rescued me, redeemed me, restored me.”

Strawberry says that it is by the “grace of God” that he is still living. “I had cancer twice, lost my left kidney in my second surgery, so God has given me grace to be able to make a difference in others’ lives,” he said. “The life that I had, I had to get rid of to become who I am today.”

Strawberry lives in Missouri with his third wife Tracy, whom he met at a drug recovery convention. They married in 2006 and have since founded the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, an organisation dedicated to children with autism. He is also the co-founder of the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Centre for drug and alcohol addiction in St Cloud, Florida.

“My wife is the miracle in my life, I love her and I’m blessed because God used her to restore my life,” he said.

“Jesus said ‘what good does it do for a man to profit the whole world and lose his soul?’ That was me, I gained all this stuff and almost lost my soul. Putting on the uniform didn’t make me a man, putting on the uniform made me a baseball player.

“I didn’t become a man until I met Christ, when I went to a place of surrendering my life. That was 14 years ago.

“Fourteen years ago I was $3 million in debt and didn’t have a driver’s licence. I always said God has a great sense of humour. From there of having nothing, it brought me to the greatest point in my life. I became a man when I walked down to the cross and surrendered myself.

“I will never look back because there is nothing there. I never looked back on my career and said I wish I could have, should have. That’s dead and gone and what I have in front of me today is an opportunity to make a difference.”

Elite athletes: Some of the former athletes who were in Bermuda for WAIS Bermuda hosted by Radius Financial Education, at Fairmont Southampton. Left to right: Derek Brooks (sports agent), Bobby Brown (Cleveland Browns), Charles Ways (NY Giants), Riddick Bowe (boxer), Charles Smith (NY Knicks), Ray Mercer (boxer), Chris Byrd (boxing), Lamon Brewster (boxing), Darryl Strawberry (baseball), Tony Sanfelice (president of Radius Financial Education who hosted the summit), Chris Jones (Radius Financial Education)
Darryl Strawberry with Chris Jones (left) and Tony Sanfelice (president) of Radius Financial Education (Photograph by Lawrence Trott)