Roy Exum: An All-Star Breaks His Silence

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It wasn’t as much of what he said but who it was that was saying it. The quote? “I look at (Tim) Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let 'em laugh. Let 'em talk. He's a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He's a real man.

"He gets challenged about his faith all of the time," the man went on, “but he never waivers because of opinions, or what the media is writing about him. His reward later on in life is going to be even greater because he stood in the midst of everybody criticizing him being a Christian and playing sports at the same time.

"I admire him more than he could ever imagine."

Before I spill the beans, let me give you a hint and see if you can name him. He is one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. He hit 335 home runs in his career, played in eight all-star games, starred in four World Series and drove in 1,000 runs. Need more? In the end, when drugs and drink brought the whole thing crashing down, he was addicted to drugs, spent almost a year in prison and owed roughly $3 million to his creditors.

But last week, when he gave his first interview in over three years, Darryl Strawberry was nothing short of fabulous once again. Bob Nightengale of USA Today found Darryl in St. Peters, Mo., where he is today a pastor, and the writer’s stunning portrait of the 6-foot-6 superstar who endured and conquered “a living hell” may be the best story I’ve read this year.

Nightengale noticed that inside Strawberry’s modest home there is not one piece of his baseball past. The trophies, the World Series rings, the batting titles so gloriously earned during a 17-year career are all gone. “I got rid of it all. I was never attached to all that stuff.”

“"I'm over 'Strawberry,' " he told the USA Today writer. "I'm over Mets. I'm over Yankees. I don't want to exist as Darryl Strawberry, the baseball player. People don't understand that's no longer you. I'm not a baseball player, anymore. That person is dead."

The pastor tried to explain it. “I love that I was a great player, and won championships, and did all these great things, but I was always more driven. I knew there had to be more than just putting on a uniform and hitting grand slams and making millions of dollars. I always believed there was a greater purpose to life."

Had it not been for his pretty wife Tracy, who herself was addicted to cocaine, crack and crystal meth before finding Jesus 14 years ago, Strawberry would probably be dead but, because she led him to the Lord, he says without hesitation, “I am happier today than I have ever been in my entire life.”

"I used to be a big shot, let's put it that way," Strawberry admitted. "But I want nothing to do with baseball. I have no desire to be working in baseball. No desire at all. I love the game, don't get me wrong, but I love the Bible more.

“I want to help people save their lives, and have the responsibility of leading people into following Christ,” he told USA Today. “It's so hard to describe what that feels like, but I've never been happier in my life. It's so much fun being a pastor."

Very quietly, the two started and have now launched The Darryl and Tracy Strawberry Christian Recovery Program in Longview, Tex. Other centers are planned in Orlando and St. Louis. But the biggest thing is that he’s done it under the radar. He wants no fanfare. "We're not into this for publicity," Strawberry told USA Today

"We're into it because God called us into ministry. We became who God wanted us to be. We're trying to bring purpose into people's lives, why they're created, so they can fulfill their real purpose and destiny. We are proof, through our experiences, that people can be healed. God started building it through us. And we share that.

“Had it not been for the past,” Strawberry was honest, “all the falls we had and then the restoration, I probably wouldn’t have the impact I am having now. I'll always be grateful for baseball because it was a tremendous platform that God set up for me. That part of me will never go away. But I will never go back into that world, that lifestyle, the one that most athletes never conquer.

“You look at A-Rod (the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez), and he'll say, 'I want to do well.' What he's really saying is, 'I want people to like me, but they don't like me, because of the stigma attached to who I am.' I had all of those issues, too. It was just a different time. A different generation. Here I am, a baseball superstar, falling into the pits, having everybody write you off, and then having God say, 'I'm going to use your mess for a message.' How beautiful is that?"

This is the guy who once traded an all-star career for drugs and lived penniless in flop houses, who everybody saw on seven different covers of Sports Illustrated and who then fell harder than any king who ever reigned. Yet today Darryl Strawberry is again a bright star, his mess as his message.

Just beautiful indeed.

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