‘From the Pit to the Pulpit’

Darryl Strawberry cherishes identity in Christ over MLB success and personal failures

What if? It’s a question Major League Baseball pundits ponder when reminiscing about one of the game’s legendary power hitters of the 1980s and ’90s.

Even Darryl Strawberry asks the same question of his storied professional baseball career.

Ironically, when Strawberry reflects on his prowess at home plate, he is actually more thankful for a season of striking out in life.

“I am glad for my fall because had I not fallen, I would have probably made another $50 million, but I wouldn’t have ever met Jesus,” says Strawberry, now two decades removed from his playing career.

Two failed marriages, drug and alcohol addiction, jail time and bankruptcy are the messes Strawberry says God has transformed into a message for His glory. 

And it’s that message the 57-year-old is sharing across the country as an itinerant evangelist speaking in churches, prisons and schools.

Strawberry likens God’s faithfulness in his life to that of Job in the Old Testament. “God let me see the fame, the fortune, the brokenness, the emptiness, almost left for dead, but He stepped in the middle and said, ‘Satan, OK, that’s enough. You can torment him all you want, but at the end, his soul belongs to Me and I’m going to take him, and I’m going to use him for My glory.’”

Strawberry’s statistical accomplishments jump off the back of a collector’s baseball card almost like the stitched cowhide-covered cork connecting with his wooden bat.

Topping his list of accolades are eight consecutive National League All-Star selections, from 1984 to 1991, and National League Home Run Leader in 1988.

Yet most baseball purists agree that Strawberry’s smooth, seemingly effortless swing should have yielded more than the 335 home runs posted during his 17-year career.

Strawberry’s precipitous fall—away from the game—practically mirrored his meteoritic rise to fame as the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year with the New York Mets.

By the end of his pro baseball career, he had garnered four World Series Championship rings, including one with the Mets and three more with the New York Yankees.

And while the fleet-footed right-fielder was prolific at stealing bases and scoring runs, in the game of life the enemy was robbing Strawberry of lasting peace and joy.

“When I was playing in my career, I wondered why I was always so lonely,” he says. “Because I was empty. And I had everything from a worldly standpoint that you’re supposed to be happy with, but it never fulfilled me on the inside.”

Growing up in south central Los Angeles, Strawberry’s emptiness was rooted in a dysfunctional childhood marred by an abusive, alcoholic father.

“He came home and pulled out a shotgun when I was 14 and said he was going to kill the whole family,” recounts Strawberry. “Me and my brother went into action. We came close to killing my father. If it wasn’t for my mom, we would have killed him.”

Strawberry credits his mom as a prayer warrior who refused to give up on him despite his three suspensions from Major League baseball and frequent stints in drug rehab for cocaine addiction.

After she succumbed to breast cancer about 20 years ago, he found her prayer journal under her bed, with this entry: “God knock him off his throne; whatever You do, save him.”

Her prayers began to be answered in 1991, at a four-day evangelistic crusade in Anaheim, California.

“I went every night,” he said. “And I had just signed a $20 million contract [with the Los Angeles Dodgers]. My life was miserable. I was an alcoholic, a womanizer, and I was going through a divorce. All I did was sit up there at the top somewhere in this crusade and weep every night  because I was so broken.”

Strawberry accepted Christ as his Savior, but he was not immediately discipled in his newfound faith in Christ, and that resulted in numerous missteps and sinful lapses along his faith journey.

After one of those lapses, he found himself at a Narcotic’s Anonymous convention. And that’s where he met Tracy, whom he married several years later in 2006.

“They had found Darryl behind a dumpster and pulled him out and he was just so sick and frail,” Tracy says of her first encounter with Strawberry. “I’m watching people just pull from this celebrity person who was almost dead, literally—sitting in a chair, a little over 150 pounds soaking wet, this 6-foot-6 string. And people just wanted the baseball player. They just wanted their icon. They wanted their idol.”

Tracy says when autograph seekers approach her husband now, he sees them much differently.

“The question that is going on in Darryl Strawberry’s mind is, ‘Is this person saved? Is Heaven their home? Are they right with God? Are they reconciled with God?’”

Strawberry says God graciously worked in his life by connecting him with Tracy. “She was the one that God used to pull me out of the dope houses and tell me, ‘God has a plan for your life.’ I came back to God with Tracy because I saw her walk with Christ and I wanted what she had. And I saw her in love with God.”

Strawberry also credits Tracy’s godly counsel for helping him repeatedly prioritize his identity in Christ over his celebrity status.

It was her counsel that led him to voluntarily withdraw from the “Celebrity Apprentice” reality television show in 2010 to safeguard his heart and Christian witness. “I had to eliminate myself from that,” Strawberry says. “I had to get myself off that show because behind the scenes it was worldly.”

Then after being elected into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 2010, Strawberry closed his successful Strawberry Sports Grill in Queens, New York, in 2012 to commit full time to Strawberry Ministries alongside his wife. In 2014, the couple co-authored “The Imperfect Marriage—Help for Those Who Think It’s Over.” 

“I had to separate myself from everybody and I had to study the Word and I had to saturate myself,” Strawberry says. “I opened up Billy Graham’s books and I started reading those. Billy Graham’s books taught me Scripture.”

In 2018, Darryl and Tracy, who now live in Missouri, took their evangelistic and discipleship ministry to more than 250 venues across the country, focusing on marriage and family restoration and addiction recovery. Their Biblically centered addiction recovery curriculum is being used by churches throughout the United States and in Canada, Africa and the Philippines.

God has graciously reconciled relationships within the couple’s blended family.

“Restoration has completely found its way into the hearts of all nine of our children,” Tracy says. “It was not like that in the beginning. There was so much pain and heartache.”

Darryl agrees.

“The Lord knows there’s such a burden on my heart because we come from addiction, and He’s delivered us from it. So I know you can be delivered,” he says.

And as a two-time cancer survivor, Strawberry is profoundly grateful for his spiritual and physical healing.

“He’s a God of second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chances, and I think people need to understand that He’s a God that will never leave you nor forsake you,” Strawberry says.

“I don’t want to ever sit around and think like I did when I was a ball player, the foolishness of how great you are. No, it’s how great He is. Jesus found me in the pit and put me in the pulpit. Nobody can do that but Jesus.”

To learn more about Darryl and Tracy Strawberry’s ministry, visit StrawberryMinistries.com.

Photo: AP