A group of young boys, egged on by their parents, repeatedly screamed his name from the stands as they tried to get an autograph. Reporters, some of whom covered Strawberry when he was a player, peppered him with questions about what it was like to play a role in Opening Day.
"A home opener is always a special occasion," Strawberry said a few hours before throwing the ceremonial first pitch before the Mets played the Marlins. "It's great to be here."
Strawberry, 48, wore a pinstriped suit (brown, not blue and white, thank goodness) for the occasion. He received a standing ovation as he walked on the field, and he responded by raising his right hand and walking around the mound in a salute back to the fans.
He then delivered a pitch that, in his prime, he would have drilled into the parking lot beyond the rightfield wall.
One person who was not on the field to cheer Strawberry Monday was former teammate Dwight Gooden.
Gooden was arrested in Franklin Lakes, N.J., on March 22 after his car slammed into the back of a Mercedes. The former Cy Young Award winner is facing several charges in connection with the accident, including driving under the influence of a controlled substance, leaving the scene of an accident and endangering the welfare of a child. Gooden's 5-year-old son, Dylan, was in the backseat of the car during the accident.
Strawberry, who has battled alcohol and substance- abuse problems of his own, said he has reached out to his former teammate but declined to go into details of their conversation.
"It's hard to see what anyone goes through who has to battle through that," Strawberry said. "It's very frustrating. The most you can do is pray for him and hope for the best."
Gooden was the starting pitcher for the Mets on Opening Day in 1986, the last year the team won the World Series. The next year, he was noticeably absent. Bobby Ojeda was on the mound for the Mets; Gooden was a few miles away from Shea Stadium at Smithers Center for Alcoholism and Drug Treatment in Manhattan.