Darryl Strawberry, the eight-time Major League Baseball all-star whose 17-year career is remembered as much for his problems with substance abuse as for his prodigious talent, was the featured speaker Tuesday night at the South Coastal Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ annual Heart & Soul Banquet, held at the Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head Island.
“I was a heathen; I was a liar; I was a cheater; I was a womanizer; I was an alcoholic; I was a drug addict, saved by Grace,” Strawberry, 53, told a crowd of close to 500 in his opening remarks. “And of course, don’t ever let me forget, I was a sinner.”
Strawberry skyrocketed to superstardom as a member of the New York Mets in the early 1980s. After earning National League Rookie of the Year honors at age 21 in 1983, “Straw Man” reeled off his all-star appearances in consecutive seasons, including, as legions know, in 1986, when he helped lead the Mets to a World Series title.
As sensational as Strawberry performed during those years, and at other times in his career, he wondered during his speech just how much better he might have been if not for addiction. He was introduced to cocaine by veteran teammates early in his rookie season, he said, and “was off and running.”
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“Had I known how good I was as a player I probably would have gotten some sleep at night,” he kidded.
Strawberry’s off-the-field issues weren’t helped by what he says was a brutal childhood, one that included, he said, he and his siblings at one point contemplating killing their abusive father.
“My father was an alcoholic who told me I’d never amount to nothing. My dad beat me,” he told the rapt audience.
“Baseball allowed me to believe in myself because I wanted to show my father I would amount to something that he thought I wouldn’t.”
And boy did Strawberry do that. On the diamond.
“But I had a problem with living. I didn’t know how to live. Didn’t know who I was,” said Strawberry, who is now an ordained Christian minister in Orlando, and who has since forgiven his father and brought him into the ministry.
“I was very confused inside because my father said I was nothing.”
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 MLB draft had fame and fortune, but it was far from making him happy.
“I think too many of us are looking for worldly things to fix us and it really doesn’t,” he said. “Hopefully tonight it will be a clear message to people and they will see that God is real, and that God uses the broken pieces and the foolish things of one’s life to bring his greatness.”
“It wasn’t like he was preaching to us, he was like talking to us so you could like feel his connection and understand where he was coming from,” Walt Wheeler Jr., a sophomore at Bluffton High School, said after Strawberry’s speech.
He added: “And just knowing that he’s not the only who goes through that. A lot of people nowadays are going through alcohol and abuse from their parents and not sure where to go. So just knowing that he found Christ and he was able to even convert his dad to become a Christian is awesome.”