Former Baseball Star Darryl Strawberry Finds True Calling as Pastor

 

Darryl and Tracy Strawberry
Darryl and Tracy Strawberry

ST. PETERS, Mo. — The four-bedroom, two-story modest house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when this 6-6 muscular-toned man welcomes you inside his home, there is no evidence Darryl Strawberry the player ever existed.

There are no pictures of Strawberry in a baseball uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight All-Star Games. None of his 335 home run balls.

“I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,” says Strawberry, 51, wearing a North Carolina jersey with Michael Jordan’s No. 23. “I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.” Darryl Strawberry, the former outfield great, is no longer.  Darryl Strawberry, the ordained minister in this town 30 miles west of St. Louis, is very much alive.

“I’m over ‘Strawberry,’ ” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “I’m over Mets. I’m over Yankees. I don’t want to exist as Darryl Strawberry, the baseball player.  “People don’t understand that’s no longer you. I’m not a baseball player, anymore. That person is dead.”

Strawberry, who last week said this is his first interview with the media since becoming a preacher and opening his own ministry three years ago, declined previous requests because of his past. He’ll talk two hours about his drug and alcohol addiction. He’ll tell chilling details about prison life and crack houses. He’ll tear up telling the pain and shame he caused his family, six children and two ex-wives before marrying Tracy, also an ordained minister, six years ago.

He plans to spend the rest of his life talking about his passion, and sharing the love in his heart to impact lives, providing a reward much greater than anything he felt on the baseball field.

“I never wanted to exist as Darryl Strawberry, the baseball player,” he says. “I wanted to let go that identity. It’s not who I am. I love that I was a great player, and won championships, and did all these great things, but I was always more driven. I knew there had to be more than just putting on a uniform and hitting grand slams and making millions of dollars.

“I always believed there was a greater purpose to life.”

Strawberry, who remains proud of his baseball career, realizes there could be awkward moments this weekend when he travels to New York with 13-year-old daughter Jewel to the All-Star festivities and game at the Mets’ Citi Field. There will be plenty of autograph and photo requests, and fans wanting to talk about the Mets’ glory days when they won the 1986 World Series. There will be corporate parties, some that are mandatory, as part of his obligation with the Mets. But this is a man uncomfortable re-living the past, knowing he can change the future.

“I used to be a big shot, let’s put it that way,” Strawberry says. “But I want nothing to do with baseball now. I have no desire to be working in baseball. No desire at all.”

It’s nothing personal, he says, but he merely has moved into another stage of his life.

“Most of the guys I don’t deal with that much anymore,” Strawberry says of former teammates. “See, my life is not the same, and we don’t have much to talk about at this point.

“I love the game, don’t get me wrong, but I love the Bible more. I want to help people save their lives, and have the responsibility of leading people into following Christ. It’s so hard to describe what that feels like, but I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s so much fun being a pastor.”

Pastor Darryl. Who would have thought?

Certainly, not the former teammates, many who partied right alongside Strawberry, and now see a changed man.

“He’s been a friend of mine almost 30 years,” former Mets pitcher Bobby Ojeda says, “and you wondered how bad he would wind up before he gets it. Or if he would ever get it. I saw the highs and the lows as a friend, but I quite frankly did not know how bad things were for him. Damaging yourself is one thing, but damaging other people, and seeing what you left behind, is another. I think he got it before he completely flushed away his life.

“What he has done is so amazing, and I am just so proud of him. Some guys go through a phase, and they’re right back where they started. The fact he has done this for so long proves that this is not just some phase.”  Says Strawberry, “I finally have found my purpose in life.”

Getting saved … again

Strawberry and his wife, each twice-divorced, met 13 years ago at a narcotics center convention in Tampa. Tracy, hooked on cocaine, crack and crystal meth, had been clean for a year and turned her life to Jesus a week earlier. She saw Strawberry from across the room, and to be honest, she says, was sickened by the sight.

“When I saw Darryl that day, it was kind of disturbing,” she said. “I was real aggravated with him because of the buzz all over the convention, ‘Darryl Strawberry is in the house.’ There was a flock of people around him. He was just sitting in a chair, thin-framed. Physically, he was not well. He was in a dangerous state, active in his addiction. But people looked at him as just the baseball player.

“I looked over and told my friends, ‘I’m out of here. I’m done. This is a joke.’ I wasn’t going to participate in the freak show. I don’t care if he’s Darryl Strawberry or not. The guy is clean maybe five minutes, and with all of these people pulling at him, I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way he’ll ever get well here.’ “

Tracy was on her way out the door when she was introduced to Strawberry by a mutual friend. They wound up talking most of the night. And kept talking every day. They became a couple within two months, but the relationship teetered every day.

“I always had women in my life because it was my lifestyle,” Strawberry said, “but I was never emotionally attached to them. I didn’t have feelings. Me and Trace were getting attached. I knew in my heart I loved her, and cared for her, but I was dangerous.

“I wanted to drink and drug. I told her, ‘You don’t want to get involved with me. I’m very dangerous. My life is a mess, I’m a wreck.’

“I was so honest. I just didn’t want to hurt nobody no more.”

Tracy stayed clean, going to real estate school in south Florida, but Strawberry’s addiction continued to rage. He would disappear for days. One day, he even stole her car. Tracy refused to give up on him.

“I wanted to save Darryl. I saw the greatness in him. I saw the potential,” Tracy said. “I would chase him, banging down crack house doors, pulling him out. To some people, that was heroic. But that was crazy, and dangerous.  “I was going back to an old environment I had no (business) being in, that I could be tempted by quickly. Physically, emotionally, it took a toll on me. It was a living hell.”

They broke up, again and again, until finally, Tracy told him she was going home to Missouri. If he really loved her, if he was really committed to giving up his addiction and turning to Christ, he could follow, living in her parents’ basement.  “I didn’t have anything,” Strawberry said. “She didn’t have anything. I was in debt for $3 million, but I felt free inside. We never wavered about how this is going to work out, but how we were going to let God lead us.”

article by Bob Nightengale via usatoday.com

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