Former All-Star Major League baseball player Darryl Strawberry shared his successes and hardships on and off the diamond during Mercer’s First Pitch Classic dinner.
His son, Jordan Strawberry, plays basketball as a freshman at Mercer and sat in on his father’s speech in Hawkins Arena.
The 52-year-old baseball legend, who spoke openly about his Christian beliefs, is an ordained minister and author. Prior to his Christian conversion, the right fielder had a troubled past ridden with drug and alcohol abuse.
“At a time, I was a heathen,” Strawberry said to the crowd on Tuesday.
The baseball player was raised in Los Angeles, Ca., by his alcoholic father who would “beat the crap out of me,” Strawberry said. Strawberry said that his father’s alcoholic rage left him with emotional scars that he carried around for the rest of his life.
During junior high, Strawberry misbehaved and was kicked out of five different schools. “I was very defiant,” he said.
Then Strawberry’s life turned a corner when he discovered his love for sports – football, baseball and basketball.
In 1980, Strawberry was the first pick for the New York Mets, and the team offered him a contract for $200,000.
“You just had me born at the wrong time,” Strawberry said he told God. His $200,000 contract would be worth $10 million today, he joked.
Before Strawberry turned 21 years old, he came close to throwing down his baseball bat for good. Instead, he stuck with the game and entered the big leagues. “That’s why you never quit. You never know the end of the story,” he said.
Whenever Strawberry’s imposing 6-foot-6 frame came to bat, success would follow. During his time with the Mets, Strawberry posted 26 home runs, 7 triples, and 74 runs batted in, while hitting for a .257 average. He was also named National League’s Rookie of the Year.
In an attempt to fit in with the big league, Strawberry became involved with drugs. “Drugs have always been a part of sports and always will be,” Strawberry said.
However, the drugs couldn’t mitigate the emotional pain Strawberry felt. His personal life failed to mirror the same success he had on the red-clay baseball field.
“I was broken and hurting inside,” Strawberry said. Even though he accumulated a large sum of wealth, “it didn’t change a thing about me,” he said.
At one point, Strawberry’s life threw him a curveball, and he lost his driver’s license after being arrested in Tampa in 1999 for cocaine possession and solicitation of prostitution.
Twelve years ago, Strawberry said he experienced his Christian conversion, and “My life was changed,” he said. Now Strawberry is directing his focus on raising his family and his Christian rehabilitation center called Strawberry Ministries.
Despite his rocky career, Strawberry has maintained a staunch fanbase. Before the event, fans lined up for autographs.
Sgt. Josue Gonzalez, who is stationed in Warner Robins, joined the queue to have a baseball signed by Strawberry. Gonzalez said that his father-in-law is a big fan of Strawberry, so he plans to surprise him with the baseball with Strawberry’s signature.
During the event, Mercer’s Baseball team was recognized for their 3.2 GPA average, and four players were recognized for their 4.0 GPAs. For the past five years, Mercer is one of the baseball programs recognized along with Florida State University, University of North Carolina and University of South Carolina to amass over 38 wins.
Before leaving the stage Strawberry added, “Oh, and I’m definitely going to sponsor the baseball program.”