Darryl Strawberry has a message for people who, like him, are trying to stay sober during this difficult time: Reach out and stay connected.
He also is encouraging people who have loved ones in recovery to check in on them during this time of self-isolation.
“I think so many people are on the edge of going to drinking and going to drugging to escape,” Strawberry said. “And I can tell you right now: It will not help you. It will not change the situation. What changes the situation is you inside when you make the right decision.
“Those of us who have been on the journey and have been in a good place for a long time, we have a lot more advice to give you. I changed the course of my life as far as people, places and things and went into a different direction.”
The former Mets and Yankees star, who said he has been sober for 17 years, said in an interview with Newsday that he is especially concerned with young people as they deal with the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This time worries me a little bit about them,” he said, “because of the time off and the uncertainty. They’re probably scared.”
Strawberry, 58, said it is crucial for people to use technology such as online video platforms FaceTime and Zoom to stay in touch with people, especially those who may be at risk.
“People have more opportunities to reach out to others at these difficult times right now,” he said. “I would encourage people not to be afraid to reach out.”
Strawberry said it’s important for people who are struggling to talk about their feelings.
“What they’re feeling is very real, very raw . . . ,” he said. “I would encourage them to get online and really talk about their feelings now more than anything because I know they have a lot of feelings going on right now. I know I did when I was trying to get into recovery.”
Strawberry, who lives in St. Louis, said he has been an evangelist for about 10 years through his own Strawberry Ministries, which he created with his wife, Tracy. He said he spends 250 days a year going around the country speaking at churches, prisons and high schools about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, with an emphasis on opioid abuse.
“I tell everyone I was a top-class athlete and I ended up addicted to drugs, alcohol and everything,” he said, “because I didn’t really pay attention and realize it could take me down the wrong road.”
Strawberry was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 amateur draft and burst onto the scene with the Mets in 1983 at age 21. At 6-6, with power and speed, he seemed destined for a Hall of Fame career. In his first nine seasons, he hit 280 home runs and drove in 832 runs.
Strawberry won the National League Rookie of the Year award with 26 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 122 games in ’83. He was a key part of the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship, hitting 27 homers and driving in 93 runs.
Strawberry left the Mets after the 1990 season, signing as a free agent with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers, but his career began to decline amid a series of injuries, arrests and legal problems.
Off the field, Strawberry’s trouble ranged from alcohol and drug abuse to charges of domestic violence and tax evasion. He went AWOL more than once and even openly talked about suicide before a judge at a court hearing after a relapse.
He joined the Yankees in 1995 as a role player and was a part of three World Series-winning teams. He hit 24 home runs in 1998 but was diagnosed with colon cancer on Oct. 1 and had surgery two days later. He had a second cancer diagnosis in 2000 shortly after his career ended.
Strawberry said he was astonished by how many teenagers came through his treatment centers, especially for opioid addictions. That’s one reason he has since focused on giving speeches in high school settings.
“I try to let the kids know about the road I was on, how it’s a bad road,” he said. “Kids don’t understand how bad the road is with drinking and drugs. They think it’s cool. But they don’t know the road is a dead end.
“Some of us get out of it, but others never get out of it.”