By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
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By Timothy Lane
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By Dennis Brown
Despite two bouts with colon cancer the second of which cost him a kidney Strawberry still looks fit enough to go extra innings, even though he claims he hasn't worked out in six years. A cross pendant dangles above his hooded sweatshirt. His four world-championship rings are absent from his fingers.
While the Strawberrys pay tribute to God in nearly every other sentence, it is Tracy who tries to convert people she barely knows. She spent a good fifteen minutes trying to win this reporter over to Jesus until Strawberry gave her a dirty look. Often, in the midst of his wife's religious diatribes, he looks distracted.
Most of the time, however, he seems comfortable and at peace, choosing his words carefully and offering an occasional belly laugh.
Drowning glass after glass of raspberry iced tea, Strawberry says he spends most of his days at the couple's O'Fallon home, praying, reading his Bible and watching Christian stations on satellite television. Of course, if his oldest son's University of Maryland basketball games are on, he'll flip the channel.
Tracy no longer sells real estate, and instead devotes her full energies to the autism foundation and scheduling her husband's appointments. The pair live off of what remains of Strawberry's $30 million in career baseball earnings. Not long ago, Strawberry gave away a house, a Rolex and his luxury cars to friends and family.
"I got so tired of it all, because it wasn't important," he says. "It's not who I am. I live a simple life now; I'm a simple man."
But he adds that he has as much money as he needs and maintains trust funds for the five children with whom he stays in touch. (He says he's never met a sixth child, Eugene Michael Strawberry, born to a Clayton woman named Lisa Clayton. She successfully sued him for paternity in 1989.)
He says he remains on good terms with both of his ex-wives, despite the domestic-abuse allegations that marred both relationships. "They look at my life today, and they see I'm a different person. We were never on bad terms. It just didn't work for me. I had to move on."
On a January evening, he's just returned from Los Angeles, where he attended the funeral of Chris Brown, a high-school teammate and former big-leaguer who died from injuries suffered when his house burned down. Obituaries remembered Brown the same way Strawberry's will likely remember him as a player of untold promise.
Early in his big-league career, Strawberry took to the bottle, egged on by his notoriously rowdy Mets teammates, who popped greenies and kept a brew-stocked fridge in the clubhouse.
"We were throwbacks," pitcher Bobby Ojeda has told baseball writers. "We were like, 'Gimme a steak, gimme a fuckin' beer, gimme a smoke, and get the fuck out of our way.'"
Following their 1986 National League Championship series victory over Houston, they nearly destroyed an Ozark Airlines plane with a drunken food fight. Strawberry and Dwight Gooden "exposed their penises and were inviting the women to lick this and lick that," writes Jeff Pearlman in his 2004 book about the World Series champs.
"I wanted to break the cycle, because [alcoholism] is genetic," Strawberry says now. He adds that his own struggles have helped him understand the plight of his father, whom he occasionally visits in San Diego. (His mother and guiding force, Ruby Strawberry, died in 1995.)
Strawberry characterizes his drinking habit as a coping mechanism. "As long as there was alcohol in my bloodstream," he writes in Recovering Life, "I was relieved of the incredible pressure I felt on my shoulders, the pressure of being someone else's rising star."
Though a subsequent cocaine addiction was followed by more rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous sessions, nowadays the church is Strawberry's sole tool for recovery. He says he's been clean for "four or five years" and that he's never tempted to have a drink or a snort.
"I don't have these raging feelings inside like most people talk about," he says. "I don't go to nightclubs and hang out. You'll never see me down there at the Landing or places like that, because that's not how I live. I live as a believer. When you give your life to Christ and serve the Lord, you walk a different way; you're free. You're not in bondage."
Tracy says her husband's addictions are a result of the pain he suffered as a child, and Church on the Rock can help cure them. "The church offers people help though restoration," she says. "They believe in getting to the root of the problem and restoring the wholeness of an individual."
Last November Dwight Gooden was released from a prison in Gainesville, Florida, where he served seven months for violating his probation by taking cocaine.
Strawberry is rarely in touch with the man, once his best friend on the Mets, whose own career was similarly unhinged by drugs and alcohol. When asked if he sees any of himself in the former Cy Young winner, Strawberry replies curtly, "You just hope and pray that he works through it, like you would for anyone."
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