Darryl Strawberry was once regarded as one of the greatest sluggers in baseball, hitting 335 home runs and 1,000 RBI. During his 17-year career, he won four World Series titles, was an eight-time All-Star and won National League rookie of the year honors in 1983. Yet his struggles off the field were infamous.
He was suspended three times for substance abuse. He was in and out of rehab. He was arrested multiple times, including for alleged domestic assault, possession and solicitation. He was indicted for federal tax evasion. He eventually served time in prison.
For Strawberry, drugs, alcohol, sex, even the game itself, was all an escape from the depression that came from growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father.
Strawberry grew up in south central Los Angeles. He was the middle of five children. It was Strawberry, the second oldest son, Ronnie, and their mother who bore the brunt of their father’s abuse. In his autobiography, “Straw: Finding My Way,” Strawberry writes:
I clearly remember one night after he beat us both, Ronnie and I were lying on our beds. His shirt was off and I could see the terrible welts on his back. “I’m not going to live like this,” he said. “We’re going to have to kill him. We’re just going to have to kill him, that’s all.” Imagine a fourteen-year-old boy talking about his father that way. And me, thirteen, agreeing. Imagine hating your dad that much. We both hated our father, hated what he had done to us and what we became. We became monsters inside.
Not long after that, his father came home drunk, took his shotgun from the closet and threatened to kill the whole family. The boys, along with their oldest brother, Mike, took a stand. Their father left that night for good.
Strawberry channeled his energy into basketball and baseball, and he was talented. In 1980, just out of high school, Strawberry was the No. 1 pick in the Major League draft, chosen by the Mets, who sent him to play minor league ball for a few years.
He played for the Mets, the Dodgers, the Giants and the Yankees. His prowess on the field made headlines, and so did his personal struggles. His downward spiral continued until 2006. By that time, he had served 11 months in prison, was getting divorced from his second wife, he faced serious financial difficulties and was active in his addiction. Then he met Tracy.
Tracy, who would eventually become Strawberry’s third wife, was in recovery from an addiction herself. They met at a Narcotics Anonymous convention and quickly fell in love. Strawberry continued to use until he realized that he would lose Tracy if he didn’t quit. The couple was off-and-on several times while Strawberry focused on his recovery and rededicated himself to his Christian faith.
Today, Strawberry is a new man. He and Tracy have rebuilt a simple life together in the Midwest. They are both ordained ministers and together founded Strawberry Ministries, which operates two Christian treatment centers in Florida, and the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, which supports people with autism.
But his new purpose, he says, is to share the message of the gospel.
“I was once very lost and tormented, but now I am found and free in Christ Jesus,” Strawberry said. “I want everyone to experience the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ.”
Strawberry will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19, at the Lerner Theatre in downtown Elkhart. For tickets, visit www.thelerner.com.