Being Darryl Strawberry

Baseball's bad boy is now doing the Lord's work in O'Fallon, Missouri. How long will that last?

Strawberry is plainly annoyed by the question. "The average Joe Blow probably went through the same thing I went through and Doc Gooden went through," he says. "But his life is not publicized. You got lawyers, doctors that are addicted to cocaine, losing their licenses, losing everything because of it. I only hurt myself. What if God was to expose everybody?"

Adds Ray Negron, George Steinbrenner's special assistant: "Did he have problems in the past? Yeah, like everyone else, but he's Darryl Strawberry, so it was publicized more. He's always had this incredible heart and has always given everything of himself, but the disease of addiction makes for a demon."

Strawberry deflects questions about why he started using cocaine ("Who knows? It's just something you try.") and what he might have achieved had it not been for his drug habits.

Mike Dressler
Still loved: Shea Stadium fans last year gave Darryl 
Strawberry a standing ovation when he came to throw out 
the first pitch of the NLCS.
David Saffran/Icon SMI
Still loved: Shea Stadium fans last year gave Darryl Strawberry a standing ovation when he came to throw out the first pitch of the NLCS.

"I don't sit around and harp on my past, saying, 'Baseball could have been....' My purpose is to help bring restoration into people's lives, to help mend the lost and the broken. My real purpose wasn't playing baseball. Most people think it was, because you get worldly status. Worldly status means nothing when it comes to kingdom status."

Yet even at Church on the Rock, the domed, sprawling house of salvation Strawberry has adopted as his own, people seem most interested in his earthly status.

Leaving the sanctuary after a recent Wednesday-night service, Strawberry's accosted by a star-struck congregation member. "Didn't you play for the Mets or something?" the woman asks, inching towards him. "My husband wants to meet you. Please, please?"

Before Strawberry can answer, she brings her wide-eyed husband over, who sticks out his hand to grasp his idol's flesh. "I really enjoyed the years you were playing," he says. "I really admired you."

"We're just here because we love the Lord," counters the slugger, still smiling.

Throughout his life, whenever things seem to be going well for Strawberry — whether it be success at the ballpark, new love or renewed faith — he turns into Bill Buckner and lets the ball go through his legs.

Even his recent incarnation in O'Fallon seems precarious and potentially short-lived. Days after attending that Wednesday-night service at Church on the Rock, Strawberry abruptly left town for Los Angeles, leaving his wife to wonder whether if he would ever return.

Tracy would not comment on the details, though she asked a week after her husband's departure that Riverfront Times spike this story and declined to disclose where Strawberry might be and why he left.

Reached by phone, Strawberry says the marriage is not in peril and that he journeyed to Southern California because of a baseball clinic and a "situation with his daughter" that needed to be resolved, the details of which he would not delve into.

"I plan to come back. That's my home. I'm just away right now. Tracy is upset because I had to take care of some personal business as far as my oldest daughter. She didn't know if I was coming back right away. I told her I'll be back."

Strawberry, meanwhile, long ago grew weary of being pegged the black Ted Williams. More recently, he's even grown tired of being Darryl Strawberry. Who among us cares to hear constant reminders of squandered potential?

The Straw Man, perhaps, has at last come to terms with his careless voyage.

"I have no hard feelings about life," he says softly. "Everyone has their own journey to go through. Everyone suffers, and everyone has problems. The real key is trying to get through them."

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