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, in his first full interview since retiring from baseball 18 years ago. He was 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.
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.”
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 Daryl. 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.”
A World Of Good For The Community
They turned their lives over to Jesus, attending the Church On The Rock in St. Peters and becoming actively involved in worship. Tracy worked in real estate, Strawberry worked as a part-time Mets’ instructor and TV commentator, before deciding he would dedicate his entire life to ministry. They slowly eased out of debt, were married Oct. 1, 2006, at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, and moved into their own apartment in St. Peters.
Today, they have their ministry — strawberryministries.org, where the web site leads with, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” from Romans 12:2.
They opened The Darryl and Tracy Strawberry Christian Recovery Program in Longview, Texas, and hope to launch two others soon in Orlando and St. Louis. They also have a Coffee House prayer meeting every Friday night at the Darryl Strawberry Adult Day Program for Autism building.
And they’re just getting started — much to the delight of this town.
“They have meant everything to this community, particularly me,” says Marcia Funderburk, 58, who reveals that two of her adult children are heroin addicts. “You want to just throw in the towel, and give up. It’s been such a nightmare. You’re so beaten down.
“But they have given me such inspiration. It’s awesome to see a guy that went so high, and crashed so low, and now he’s pouring his heart and soul back into people.”
Serene, 53, and Harold, 65, who requested their last name not be used because of debt collectors, say they are in financial ruins. They lost everything in the home-building and realtor businesses. They had nowhere to turn, seeking comfort and hope.
“They have been so wonderful for everyone here that are down and out,” Serene said. “They changed our lives, gave us encouragement, and now we’re starting over. I’m not sure what would have happened without them.”
The stories go on and on in this community. Kim Noah says she’ll be forever grateful for the inspiration Strawberry provided her 35-year-old son, addicted on pain pills and jailed for illegally writing doctor’s prescriptions for valium.
The Strawberrys, these people say, can relate.
“It’s that desire, that addiction,” Tracy Strawberry says. “You don’t control it. It controls you. Your mind. Your emotions. Your behavior. It’s like the devil taking chunks of your life away.
“This addiction has you, and you can’t let it go. You think, ‘Even if I get clean and sober, how am I ever going to have a life after all the damage I’ve done? How do you ever get rid of this torment in your mind? How do I ever get rid of the guilt and shame?’ “
Says Darryl: “It’s demonic. It just strips you of everything inside.”
Regrets, Rewards, Resolved
It’s their horrifying life experiences, the Strawberrys say, that enables them to relate. They have had the highest of highs. They’ve seen the lowest of lows. They believe they can reach the troubled souls and, if nothing else, instill hope.
“I wish I could have been like a Gary Carter (the late Hall of Fame catcher and a Mets teammate) or (NFL quarterback) Tim Tebow when I was playing,” Strawberry says, “and have Christ in my life the way I do today. When Carter left here, he left here as a right man, a righteous man, who lived his life right. He loved his faith.
“I look at Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let ’em laugh. Let ’em talk. He’s a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He’s a real man.
“He gets challenged about his faith all of the time,” Strawberry says, “but he never waivers because of opinions, or what the media is writing about him. His reward later on in life is going to be even greater because he stood in the midst of everybody criticizing him being a Christian and playing sports at the same time. I admire him more than he could ever imagine.”
As for himself, Strawberry says he’s certainly not a hero, nor a savior. He’s on a mission.
“We’re not into this for publicity,” Strawberry says. “We’re into it because God called us into ministry. We became who God wanted us to be. We’re trying to bring purpose into people’s lives, why they’re created, so they can fulfill their real purpose and destiny.
“I’ll always be grateful for baseball because it was a tremendous platform that God set up for me. That part of me will never go away. But I will never go back into that world, that lifestyle, the one that most athletes never conquer. You look at A-Rod (the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez), and he’ll say, ‘I want to do well.’ What he’s really saying is, ‘I want people to like me, but they don’t like me, because of the stigma attached to who I am.’
“I had all of those issues, too. It was just a different time. A different generation. Here I am, a baseball superstar, falling into the pits, having everybody write you off, and then having God say, ‘I’m going to use your mess for a message.’
“How beautiful is that?”