Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to make fans remember these forgotten players by seeking them out and talking to them in our quest to answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”
I recently ran in to Darryl Strawberry at a Syracuse Crunch hockey game and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the 1986 Mets, playing baseball in Queens and the Bronx, and his life after baseball. A huge thanks to the Syracuse Crunch PR department for permitting us to do this interview.
For those of you looking to listen, here’s the podcast.
Noah: So you won a World Series, played on several contending teams, made nine all star appearences and put up some outstanding numbers over your career. Looking back on it all, what was your finest moment while on the Mets?
Darryl: The finest moment from my time on the team was coming to a place of winning. 1986 especially was a great year for us, winning the National League Championship after going through a great Houston ball club before winning in the World Series.
Noah: What was it like playing on that 1986 team? You guys could make a case that you were one of the best in history.
Darryl: Well we were, and we always will be one of the best teams in history. I don’t think (today) that you can find a group of guys who had such determination (to win) no matter what the circumstances were. We always knew how to battle back, and that’s what baseball is all about.
Noah: You also won rookie of the year in 1983 after being drafted first overall. How did you cope with the pressure of playing in New York as a high draft pick?
Darryl: Once I got to (New York) and got comfortable, my hitting coach Jim Frey helped me settle in (physically). Things started to work out for me because I started to come to the ballpark early everyday to prepare myself. As a young player you have to do that at the major league level to be successful.
Noah: Can you pinpoint any one player or coach who shaped you as a player or as an individual?
Darryl: Well I think I would say Jim Frey, the hitting coach at the time. He had a lot to do with helping me be successful during my rookie season. And then Bill Robinson and Davey Johnson came over and they really moved me forward in my career, helping me learn the game and play it the right way.
Noah: We can say that -and Mets fans everywhere will agree with me on this one- game 6 of the 1986 World Series was one of the most iconic moments in Mets history. Take me through the last few innings of that game, what was the atmosphere like in the dugout?
Darryl: We were struggling there for a while because we didn’t know if we could come back. We started to put things together with hits here and hits there and we just tried to stay focused as a team. It didn’t surprise me to see guys coming through because that was what we were about that whole season. We were always in situations where we needed to come back in ball games and we knew how to do that.
Noah: What was your reaction when Jesse Orosco recorded that final out?
Darryl: It’s done! We finally did it, we are the champions of baseball. It was something that we all were striving for all season, and we didn’t know if we were going to accomplish it going in, but we did.
Noah: You faced some of the greatest pitchers in baseball during your career. Who were you most scared to face and why?
Darryl: I wasn’t scared, but facing the great Nolan Ryan was difficult for me. He was just a different breed, he had a different look about himself, and I never feared anyone until I faced him for the first time. There was a lot of fear in my heart then but as time went by, I started to get comfortable against him. I then got to a point where I believed I could face anybody, it didn’t matter who was on the mound.
Noah: After you signed with the Dodgers, was there anything you knew you would miss about playing in New York?
Darryl: Yeah the fans! Definitely not the media, even though I had some friends in there who treated me well. But a lot of them weren’t very nice because they didn’t know us, and they didn’t follow us everyday. They just spouted off opinions. But yeah, I definitely missed the fans most. They’re a very aggressive group, and I really loved that. I became comfortable with them, used to them, and their (aggressiveness) shaped my style of play.
Noah: Speaking of playing in New York, can you describe your experience playing for both the Mets and the Yankees? How was playing for each team different?
Darryl: The Mets are part of National League baseball, so it’s a speed game, and I got to run a lot. Going to the American League, it was about going for the homerun, which I was okay with. When I played on the Yankees, I had the chance to play on some great winning teams in 1996, 1998, and 1999 under the great Joe Torre. Playing for the Yankees was amazing and I also had some amazing years playing for the Mets.
Noah: So now that you’ve been relatively out of the media spotlight for some time, tell me, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball?
Darryl: I’m an ordained minister now. I travel, I’m an evagelist, I preach the gospel. My ministry is Strawberryministries.org. I also spend a lot of time helping people. I have a (drug) treatment center in Florida called the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center where I’m helping young people who struggle with substance abuse get better. It’s a chance for me to give back and show people that they can recover and that they can really change.
Noah: Where specifically has your retirement taken you?
Darryl: It’s taken me to a wonderful place. It’s better than baseball, better than anything that I could have ever imagined. I’m answering the call of my life and the call of God, who would have ever thought that I’d be preaching the gospel one day.
Noah: So tell me Darryl, do you have any regrets from your time with the Mets or your time in professional baseball?
Darryl: No regrets whatsoever. We all have a journey in life, and we all have to go on it; even though we don’t know what it’s going to be. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish the race (of life) and I’m just really grateful for the way my life has changed and the way that I’m finishing the race; giving back and helping others.
Noah: But that said, your career ended much earlier than it should have. You had 280 homers by age 29, and you were even drawing comparisons to Hank Aaron. Do you ever wonder what could have been?
Darryl: No, I never think about what could have been. I deal with what was and the way my course ran. I have no regrets. I think that too many people look back over the past and they can never move forward. I needed to move forward in my life and that’s what I did.
Noah: That’s a great way to be. Just switching gears now, I’m going to ask you a little bit about the Mets today. How closely have you been following the team?
Darryl: I really don’t follow them, I really don’t follow baseball. It’s nothing personal, my life is just very busy doing things to help others that I don’t really have a lot of time to (follow baseball) at this point.
Noah: Michael Conforto, the Mets’ current left fielder is another young talented left handed hitter who has a sweet swing just like you did. He was also a high draft pick. What advice would you offer a player like that for playing in New York?
Darryl: Work hard, have fun, and don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of ups and downs as you learn, but the most important thing is that you have to believe in your ability. I always believed in my own ability, no matter what anyone else had to say.
Noah: How do the 2016 Mets stack up to your 1986 Mets?
Darryl: (laughs) They don’t even compare, they’re not even close to what we were!
Noah: And lastly, if you could give any message to Mets fans today, what would it be?
Darryl: Just keep believing. Don’t get discouraged if the team doesn’t win right away. It took (my teams) a couple years to put the pieces together before we started winning. I know last year they made it to the World Series, but it won’t be a failure if they don’t make it back this year. As long as they have a great season and make it back to the playoffs, playing as well as they can, they’ll be great. Hopefully this team has made adjustments with learning the fundamentals of playing baseball because you have to make the plays in the World Series and the playoffs to win the championship. I hope that they’ve learned that over the past year.
Noah: Thank you Darryl, really appreciate your time.
Darryl: You got it.