SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Former MLB slugger Darryl Strawberry spoke with affection, urgency and passion while pacing the stage at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Monday night. Those who idolized him when he was a larger-than-life figure sitting atop the throne of the world’s largest city were engaged and listened intently to his wisdom and insight.
But the one-time face of Major League Baseball who led both the Mets and Yankees to World Series titles wasn’t exactly in town to talk about baseball.
Quite the opposite, actually.
Strawberry — whose spiritual revitalization after a sad and unfortunate fall from the game, nearly morbid drug and alcohol addictions, and troubled past has been well documented — was in Scotch Plains to carry out the messages of his newfound passion: Making others’ lives better.
“My real thing of coming here is to bring a message of hope; that your life can be restored,” Strawberry said in an exclusive interview with TAPintoSPF. “We have a time that we’re living in that we have an epidemic in America that’s real. There’s young people dying and losing their life, and it shouldn’t be that way. ... I think we live in communities where we think we don’t have problems, and we do.”
To get his points across, “Straw” had to delve into his past, which started out with copious amounts of potential, but turned into one of sports’ most unfortunate stories.
After rising to stardom upon arriving with the New York Mets in the 1980s, Strawberry — like many of his Mets teammates during that time — began to make the wrong decisions off the field, despite ample success between the white lines. As the years went on in the big city, which Strawberry explained is full of distractions, the outfielder developed serious drug and alcohol problems that nearly caused him his life. After his tenure as a Met ended in 1990 when he went to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent, his playing career slowly declined — partly due to injuries, but also due to addiction.
Strawberry, who noted that it’s a miracle he’s even alive to speak today, then had to overcome cancer twice during a two-year span between 1998 and 2000, and would battle legal problems during the' 90s and early 2000's.
Fortunately, Strawberry is a success story of recovery and new beginnings. He found himself long after his playing days, and has since gotten his life back in order. Now, as a man of faith and integrity, he speaks to people like he did on Monday, with the objectives of preventing youths and adults alike from falling into the same addictions and bad habits that he once succumbed to.
Citing the help of his wife, Tracy, who’s also recovered from addiction, Strawberry came to the realization that what he does as a non-athlete is so much more important from his playing career.
“It was after the playing career, when I got into my faith and got healed; started walking into real life outside of baseball,” Strawberry said about when his life started to change. “Like I’ve said, I enjoyed playing, but I enjoy life and people more than a game. It’s the society that we live in that we get one chance to make a difference, so let’s make a difference while we got the chance.”
In his new life as an ordained Christian minister and public speaker, Strawberry looks to enhance both people and communities alike. He wants to make a difference and show people what's really happening.
“To bring hope to people; to bring hope to the community,” is what Strawberry said his message’s goal is. "Those that come out — people that come out — really show you that they care about what’s really happening. Those that sit at home and don’t come out, they miss the point of being able to help.”
Though baseball was not the main topic or purpose of the night, the fact that a once larger-than-life figure from the game was right in Scotch Plains is a pretty big deal. Drafted in the first round by the Mets out of high school in 1980, Strawberry was an eight-time All-Star and won four World Series, two Silver Slugger Awards, claimed the National League Rookie of the Year in 1983, and is a member of the Mets Hall of Fame.
But ask Strawberry, and he's likely to be more proud helping people's lives than anything accomplished on the diamond.
“Baseball is a game — you’re not going to be able to play baseball forever. It’s going to pass, and you’re going to think, ‘Who am I?’. I see so many former players that can’t get away; they’re stuck, they’re still there, and trying to live the way we used to," he said.
"There’s more to giving back.”