Strawberry: 'It's nice to come back'

Updated: July 17, 2004, 5:12 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Nearly 14 years after his sweet swing sent mammoth home runs over the Shea Stadium fences for the New York Mets, Darryl Strawberry decided he had been away for too long.

"It's nice to come back to a place where I first started," Strawberry said Saturday before the Mets played the Philadelphia Phillies. "There's a lot of memories for me here."

Strawberry participated in a meet-and-greet session with fans, along with former Mets Lenny Dykstra, Keith Hernandez, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Grote and Ed Kranepool -- his first appearance at a team function since signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent after the 1990 season.

He had been asked to take part in Mets alumni events in previous years, but declined.

"It just wasn't the time," he said.

Strawberry, now 42 and living in Tampa, Fla., appeared trim and healthy -- looking as if he's exorcised the personal demons that plagued him throughout his playing career.

"A restoration has taken place in me," said Strawberry, who has overcome drug addiction, prison and cancer.

Strawberry accepted a position with the Yankees as a player development instructor last winter, but resigned to spend more time with church-related activities.

"Sometimes you have to balance things and let things go," he said. "As far as coaching, I had to let that go. It's not for me."

He now spends most of his time as a minister with the Without Walls International Church in Tampa -- when he's not cheering for his son D.J., a sophomore basketball player at Maryland.

"I personally don't want anyone to think I've come back here for baseball," Strawberry said. "That's not my agenda. I'm committed to my ministry and I'm happy. I have another road to walk now."

Strawberry, who last played at Shea with the Yankees in a doubleheader in 1998, was once one of the most feared sluggers in baseball -- a powerful force whose overall talent seemed destined to land him in the Hall of Fame.

He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1983, helped lead the Mets to the World Series title three years later and was a perennial All-Star throughout his eight years at Shea.

"I did a lot of great things here," he said.

The Mets were pennant contenders during most of Strawberry's time with them, but even the former right fielder acknowledged that the team should've won more.

"I just always wished we could've focused just a little more because we could've won a game or two more," he said. "We fell short by a game or two in pennant races a few times."

He played three years with Los Angeles, one with San Francisco and played for the Yankees for parts of five seasons -- until 1999. Strawberry finished his career with 335 homers.

"I'm grateful for the fact that what I did accomplish was good," he said.

Major personal problems began to surface after he left the Mets.

Last April, Strawberry was released from Gainesville Correctional Institution in Florida after serving 11 months for violating probation on cocaine possession charges.

Through it all, Strawberry now appears to be at peace with his past and focused on the present -- and a bright future.

"My journey happened the way it was supposed to happen," he said. "I see that God is using me to help other people.

"It's not about me -- to satisfy my needs. It's about helping others. I still stand strong today. There are others who have to battle things in life. I try to give them hope and let them known that I've been in that situation."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press