Do you want to be well? Do you want to be liberated? Do you want to be free?
That was the message of a person that overcame personal and professional struggles en route to obtaining the spirit of a free man — and he wants people to join him in that feeling.
Four-time World Series Champion and eight-time All-Star Darryl Strawberry is known as one of the greatest athletes to ever grace a baseball diamond. With 335 home runs, 1,000 RBI, and 221 stolen bases coming off a 6-6, 190-pound frame that moved like a gazelle during the prime of his Major League Baseball career, that fact is undebatable.
However, it was Strawberry’s story of redemption through Christ, not his sweet ability to bat from the left-handed side of the batter’s box, that had the congregation at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Portsmouth so thrilled.
And that’s exactly how Strawberry wanted it to go.
“(Believing in the Lord) has done everything for me, not just from a family standpoint, but from a world standpoint,” Strawberry said. “It shows everybody that God is real. Because everybody saw me play baseball, they think that I’m going to come and speak about baseball, but I’m not going to come and speak about baseball, I’m going to come and speak about Jesus, who we are in Christ and the purpose of living and doing God’s will.”
After starring for what many consider to be the greatest prep baseball team of all time in the 1979 Crenshaw (Calif.) Cougars, Strawberry was drafted as the first overall pick out of high school in the 1980 MLB Draft by the New York Mets.
Success quickly followed over his first seven years in the league as the 6-6 phenom won the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1983 and led the Mets to a World Series Championship in 1986. He dovetailed that success by hitting at least 26 home runs in every season over the first nine years of his major league career while making All-Star appearances in eight of those seasons.
But even though success on the field came quick, Strawberry’s off the field affairs weren’t as smooth.
As the 55-year old said in his testimony to the Cornerstone crowd on Sunday, he was “broken before I ever put the uniform on” due to a hard upbringing in South Central Los Angeles.
And as a result, Strawberry struggled to get his personal life under control.
After 1991, injuries and various addictions limited Strawberry’s effectiveness for the remainder of his playing career, and from 1995 to 2005, various legal troubles, including addictions to cocaine and painkillers, were sandwiched in between bouts with colon cancer. Strawberry had hit rock bottom, and as he said in the testimony to the crowd at Cornerstone, had begged God to “let him die.”
“It was hard (fighting my demons),” Strawberry said. “Demons are hard. They’re real. But Jesus overcame everything. So many of us don’t know that until we get into a relationship with him and read the Bible for ourselves. We hear people’s stories, but it wasn’t until I started reading the Bible for myself that He started showing me the purpose of why I’m here.”
And through Strawberry’s newfound faith in the Lord, the former MLB standout overcame adversity.
Eventually, Strawberry remarried to his current wife, Tracy, after meeting her at a drug recovery convention. They started several organizations, including Strawberry Ministries, Autism for Light, and The Darryl Strawberry Foundation — all because they found a purpose that they could build their lives around.
“God has a plan for all of us when we come to submit ourselves to Him,” Strawberry said. “He uses us for His glory. Most people think that what we do and achieve is who we are, and it’s not. God created us from the beginning with the foundation that this would be who I really am. I’m grateful that He loves us, even when we go through all of our trials and tribulations.”
So yes, Darryl Strawberry is a famous athlete. And for most people, he will always be remembered in that light.
But his story is a true example to the point that any one of us can overcome our struggles — by finding a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.
“Before any of us find Christ, we are lost,” Strawberry said. “I was once lost, and now, I’ve been found. I’ve been found by Christ, not by man. So many of us want a man to save us, and a man to change our life, but there is only one man that can change everything about your life, and that is Jesus Christ.”