Sunday, May 23, 2010
#300) DARRYL STRAWBERRY
Darryl Strawberry was selected by the New York Mets as the first overall pick in the amateur draft on June 3, 1980. Perhaps no other player in Mets history came into the major leagues with as much fanfare and expectations as the left-handed slugger from Los Angeles, California. He made his big-league debut on May 6, 1983 at Shea Stadium facing the Cincinnati Reds.
"It was so nerve racking." Darryl remembered. "Mario Soto on the mound for the Reds, one of the top pitchers in the game. Fans cheering. The stage so much bigger and more electrifying than playing in the minor league ballpark. You've got everything going, TV cameras, the whole thing. Soto struck me out three times that night with that changeup of his, and I told myself, 'He's never going to get me out again.'" For his career against Soto, Strawberry would bat .333 and hit five of his 335 home runs.
As a young hitter it seemed like there was nothing that he could not accomplish. When he approached the plate all eyes in any ballpark were transfixed upon him. An electricity emerged with each swing. The media referred to Darryl as the black Ted Williams. Lofty praise for certain. "No doubt he's got great natural talent," the legend, Ted Williams himself observed in 1986, after watching Strawberry play. "He's going to get better, to be sure. When he misses balls, he looks good missing 'em. He's a big tall kid like I was, and he's got a big swing like I had."
Strawberry was selected as the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year and a seven-time MLB All-Star (1984-1990) with the Mets. He was also the National League Home Run Champion in 1988 with 39 round-trippers. The charismatic "Straw" became a media sensation.
In 1986 he realized his dream, and that of a second generation of Mets fans. Darryl was a member of the 1986 World Championship club that defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games. A victory that had to be sweet for the outfielder who was endlessly serenaded by a juvenile taunting chant of "Darrrryl...Darrrryl" from the Fenway Park crowd. Strawberry even helped in sealing the Red Sox team's fate with a long home run in the deciding Game 7. Over two million people attended the ticker tape victory parade in New York. One that featured Darryl smiling and waving from a red Cadillac convertible. In the vehicle, 16-month-old Darryl Jr. clung to his mother, a safe haven from the whirling madness.
The Mets would not return to the World Series again during Strawberry's time there. Both he and good friend, Dwight Gooden began to become the victims of bad off-field behavior. Problems involving both substance abuse and infidelity would derail Darryl's once promising career. He chose to return home to California and play for the Dodgers. Signing a free agent contract with Los Angeles on November 8, 1990. "I have a lot of regrets over what I've done," Strawberry said at the end of his career. "If I had it to do over again, I would have never left the Mets."
Darryl successfully received treatment for colon cancer in 1998. After continued problems with substance abuse he served prison time in 2002 for violating parole from an earlier 1999 sentence. His life now turned around, Strawberry has served as a special instructor for the New York Mets. Mentoring to current players in an effort to keep them off the path he has traveled.
He married his third wife, Tracy in October 2006 and the two founded "The Darryl Strawberry Foundation". An organization that is dedicated to children and adults with autism. A Christian man with a new focus on life, Darryl said, "I want them to see the remarkable man who I always knew I had the capabilities of being. And not playing baseball, but the remarkable man God has me. They see that today. I am so proud of what the Lord has done for me and through me. You become a splitting image of God's image when the world can see that you're different."
The slugger was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 2010.
Darryl Strawberry signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie during a public signing at the Best Buy store in Flushing, NY on April 6, 2010.