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Daryl Strawberry Confronts His Demons

Baseball icon pays a visit to the Bisons

Daryl Strawberry

This past weekend was no ordinary one at Coca Cola Field. As if it wasn’t enough to have the Columbus Clippers in town, now the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, it was also “Daryl Strawberry Day” this past Saturday, and Strawberry came to town to make an appearance. Predictably, his presence made quite a splash.

The onfield product of the Buffalo Bisons this season might leave much to be desired, but we tend to take for granted by now what a wonderful job Bisons management does in staging events like this. There were free bobbleheads for many of the fans. Strawberry threw out the first pitch and stuck around to sign autographs in the concourse. It was yet another “feel good” day at the ballpark, and General Manager Mike Buczkowski and his staff deserve credit for the great work they do.

Strawberry met with the press 90 minutes before the game’s first pitch, and, in a free-wheeling interview, talked about his opinions of the Mets’ new ballpark, his new book, the revelations about steroid use surrounding Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, and what it’s like being the erstwhile ambassador for the New York Mets.

“I’m just trying to do what I can to help out the organization,” said Strawberry. “I’m just trying to get them in the direction of winning. Of course, last season was a difficult one for Mets fans and a frustrating one for all of us, and we hope we can bring back the attitude about winning.”

Strawberry spoke wistfully about those great Mets teams of the 1980s, including the 1986 World Series champions. Any why not? Those Mets teams consistently finished first or second in the division, despite epic feuds amongst the players, and Strawberry seemed to always be in the middle of it. He bickered with Manager Davey Johnson, and he once threatened teammate Wally Backman, saying he would “bust that little redneck in the face.” The fans ate it up.

But Strawberry’s life took a dark turn. In 1999 he was suspended from Major League Baseball for 140 days after being charged with cocaine abuse. Around that time he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and then dealt with chemotherapy when the cancer recurred in his lymph nodes. In the early 2000s he was in and out of halfway houses and rehab centers in Tampa, Florida and dealing with persistent drug abuse issues.

All that seems behind him now, and his new book, Straw—Finding My Way, is on the shelves and is on the New York Times best-seller list. “It’s about real life it’s not about baseball,” said Strawberry. “It’s about the struggles you go through and how you overcome them and about helping others.”

Helping others. That seems to be Strawberry’s mantra as he takes his message about how he dealt with his personal issues and how we overcame his demons, and what lessons others could learn. “I think life is a journey. Sometimes we misunderstand what life will hand us. We don’t know. It’s not about me, it’s about who I could help. I don’t look back and say ‘why me.’” Strawberry admits that writing the book was a painful experience. “It was a way to make amends to my loved ones.”

As for Rodriguez’s and Ramirez’s use of steroids, Strawberry replied, “It doesn’t surprise me. You hear about these things. It’s been around for a decade, and knowing that baseball is trying hard to clear up the game, I think they’re on the right page.”

Strawberry has heard all the hubbub about Citifield, new home of the Mets, and how the team’s history has been so callously ignored.

“Mets fans aren’t happy about this,” he said. “But in time that history will come back. We have two championships, in ’69 and ’86, and they want history. Go to the Bronx; they have history over there. The Mets will realize that and rectify that.”

But will Strawberry put his own thumbprint on the building when he visits this week, as Dwight Gooden did when he signed a wall a few weeks back? Laughing, Strawberry replied, “No, not at all. I would think that the organization would do that. The organization needs to step up and show fans that they care.”

As for the game, Javier Valentin belted a home run on the bottom of the eighth this past Saturday, and that was enough to give the Bisons a 4-3 win. As the Bisons dispatched the three Columbus batters in order in the ninth, the big crowd of fans rose to their feet, giving their team a lot of applause and making noise. We’ve seen too few of those moments this season.

Manager Ken Oberkfell quipped after the game, “We never lose on Daryl Strawberry bobblehead day. It was great having him here. He talked to the players. He pumped them up a bit. It was nice to see Straw.” Of the fans, Oberkfell said, “It’s fun. Everyone wants to cheer when you’re winning. These fans are great.”

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