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Mets’ Darryl Strawberry thanks wife, shows new appreciation for life during jersey retirement ceremony: ‘It means more than ever’

June 2nd, 2024

Darryl Strawberry has always commanded the room with his mesmerizing combination of size, talent and charisma, whether it was on the ballfield as a player or in more recent years as Man of Faith, preaching all over the country in an attempt to save others from the mistakes he made in his own life.

Saturday was a powerful reminder of all of that as Strawberry turned his number retirement ceremony into a rollicking revival of sorts at Citi Field, celebrating family presenters, former teammates, and Mets’ fans in the joyous manner of a man with a new appreciation for life itself.

“It means more than ever,” he said at the microphone out beyond second base, “after having a massive heart attack three months ago.”

Strawberry’s heart attack in March wasn’t news exactly, except that on Saturday he offered details as to just how frightening the experience was for him.

“I came close to losing my life,” he said at his pre-ceremony press conference. “It’s a gift from the Lord that I’m sitting here today. I appreciate life more now because of it. And I have my wife to thank for that.”

Yes, it was Strawberry’s wife, Tracy, who insisted on taking him to the hospital when he wasn’t feeling right.

“I didn’t want to go,” Strawberry said. “She made me, thank God.”

It’s not the first time Tracy saved his life, as most Mets’ fans probably know by now. They met in drug rehab 18 years ago, when Strawberry was still struggling with the addiction problems that in part derailed a career that was on a Hall of Fame track during his eight years with the Mets, and she was the driving force in Darryl establishing the Strawberry Ministries.

“She’s the true hero of Darryl’s story,” is the way Jay Horwitz, long-time Mets’ PR director and confidant to both Strawberry and Doc Gooden put it. “There’s no question she saved his life a long time before he had the heart attack.

“I remember going to Florida to interview Darryl in prison for our 40th anniversary stories we were doing (as a Mets’ franchise). That was a scary experience. At that point I really didn’t know what might become of Darryl.”

New York Mets former player Darryl Strawberry speaks during a press conference at Citi Field before his number is retired by the team in a ceremony before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks

Strawberry truly has had a remarkable journey, surviving what he calls “a broken home without a father” to become the No. 1 pick in the 1980 baseball draft by the Mets, then blossoming into a superstar whose every at-bat was must-see TV, only to leave as a free agent when GM Frank Cashen wouldn’t give him a long-term contract, and endure years of drugs abuse before meeting his wife and committing his life to helping others.

“It’s really amazing to see Darryl’s turnaround,” Gooden said Saturday. “We’ve both been through a lot. I admit I was skeptical about how he said he turned his life around, until he visited my mother years ago when she was sick and he spent two hours talking to her, doing anything he could to make her feel better about her situation.

“That’s when I said, ‘ok, this is for real.’ And it is. He goes great things to help people who need to hear his story. For him to have his day, after I had mine back in April, it really brings everything full circle.”

At that point Gooden smiled and noted there was one significant difference.

“He left on his own terms,” Doc said. “I didn’t get to leave on my terms. But I know he didn’t really want to leave. He kept saying he was going to, and he even tried to talk me into leaving. But I never really believed he would leave. If he’d stayed a lot of things might have been different.”

Was Strawberry to blame for leaving the Mets? In part, for sure, because as he said Saturday, “I was crazy when I was young,” and that translated to many headaches for the Mets’ front office even as he was hitting 252 home runs in his eight seasons in Queens, the most in the majors during that time.

As a result, Frank Cashen, the GM who built the ’86 championship team, grew impatient with Strawberry and let it affect his better judgment.

“He wanted less disruptive players,” Horwitz admits.

As a result, Strawberry said Cashen offered him only a two-year contract, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to keep him from going home to play for the LA Dodgers on a five-year, $20 million contract. Cashen instead went and signed Vince Coleman, and the Mets went downhill from there, becoming irrelevant for several years.

“My relationship with the front office was broken,” Strawberry said Saturday. “But even so, as I’ve said many times, leaving the Mets was the biggest mistake I ever made as a baseball player.”

As it turned out, going home led to unhappiness and drug abuse, then a downward spiral of wasted seasons before his celebrated late-career revival with the Yankees.

His time in the Bronx made for a happy ending of sorts to his baseball career, yet much like Gooden, he always longed for the chance to make things right with the Mets.

It took Steve Cohen buying the team to make it happen, and, again like Gooden, Strawberry appreciated the long-awaited opportunity to thank the fans in person.

“There’s nothing like being home,” he shouted as he began his speech. “I’ll always be a Met.”

His joy came through loud and clear as he thanked the various people who helped him along the way. He made a special point of saying how much in retrospect he appreciated Mookie Wilson and the late Gary Carter for living the God-fearing life he came to live eventually.

“They were drinking milk and I was drinking alcohol,” was the way he put it at his press conference. “I didn’t have the courage to be like them at that point in my life.”

But most of all, Strawberry spoke to the fans.

“My greatest thank you is to you, the fans,” he said. “You pushed me to be great. The curtain calls, the boos, it all made the eight seasons here the greatest of my career.

“From the bottom of my heart, I’m so sorry for ever leaving you guys. There was nothing greater than playing in front of you fans here in Queens and at Shea Stadium.”

The fans reciprocated with roars of approval and sing-song chants of “Dar-ryl, Darryl,” that made Strawberry laugh. Indeed, he exuded joy from start to finish that made for an appropriately festive atmosphere.

Only when he hugged his wife, before going to the microphone, did the emotion of the day, and surely everything he has been through, including the heart attack, bring tears to the eyes of both Darryl and Tracy. And as such they hugged for a long time, each finally wiping their tears away.

On such a grand and memorable day for Strawberry, nothing seemed more meaningful than that hug.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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