By Louis Briscese, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 16, 2018
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Clutching his bible tightly and delivering an inspiring message, former baseball player turned pastor, Darryl Strawberry, shared his incredible journey with Airmen and their families at Travis Air Force Base, California. Strawberry’s off-the-field problems are well chronicled. An admitted drug abuser and alcoholic, the former Rookie of the Year and four-time World Series champion with the New York Mets and New York Yankees now uses those experiences to motivate others. As a pastor, he uses his testimony to instill healing through spirituality.
Strawberry, whose career spanned 17 seasons, immediately rose to fame as a baseball star with the New York Mets in 1983. The instant success made him a hit with the New York fans.
“It was fun, it was exciting but also very challenging,” said Strawberry. “To be in the big leagues at the age of 21 and having those expectations, and come to a place like New York and have an immediate impact was a dream come true.”
For nearly two decades, Strawberry experienced an abundance of on-field success. However, that success did not translate off the field. Strawberry became addicted to substances, found himself in legal trouble and several marriages ended in divorce. He’s been to jail, drug treatment centers and hospitals and was $3 million in debt at one time. Yet, Strawberry doesn’t blame anyone and believes he made those choices because he never accepted God into his life.
“The attention from the success had nothing to do with the choices that I made,” said Strawberry. “It came from the brokenness on the inside of my life, which I never dealt with.”
That brokenness began early in Strawberry’s life when he and his family were threatened by his father.
“At the age of 14, my dad came in with a gun and said that he was going to kill us all,” said Strawberry. “My brother and I fought with our dad to get the gun. It was a bad situation.”
Years of abuse and dysfunction in Strawberry’s upbringing lead to him harboring a lot of pain.
“We assume that celebrities or professional athletes have it all together,” said Strawberry. “You’ll find that most of them are broken and that their pain leads them to their greatness. That’s what happened with me.”
But, eventually, the buildup becomes overwhelming and unmanageable.
“My greatness would eventually lead me to my destructive behavior,” said Strawberry. “It had nothing to do with my celebrity status, it had to do with avoiding what I was feeling on the inside.”
Even a bout with colon cancer couldn’t keep Strawberry from making poor choices. It was his third and current wife Tracy who finally got his attention that he needed to make a change from within.
“It was my wife Tracy. She told me I needed to take (a step back from baseball),” said Strawberry. “I had never heard anything like that before. I had my identity stuck with being a baseball player and I needed to take responsibility for my life.”
All of Strawberry’s attempts to get back on track, failed because he was trying to do it alone, he said. Once he accepted God into his life, he saw things more clearly.
“There were many times when I tried to get myself together but I couldn’t,” said Strawberry. “God never shows us anything different, God is going to use people to help people.”
Now Strawberry is a changed man. He’s using his testimony to inspire others to accept God into their lives. It was exactly that testimony that inspired Darlene Johnson, 60th Air Mobility Wing, chapel account manager, to pursue Strawberry to come to Travis and tell his story.
“I saw Mr. Strawberry giving his testimony on Trinity Broadcasting Network,” said Johnson. “I was so intrigued that I watched it three times and was so impressed with his perseverance.”
Johnson, really connected with the message Strawberry was conveying.
“I was going through some difficult times and I heard his testimony and it really helped me,” said Johnson. “If there’s hope for him, there’s hope for me, and hope for everyone else.”
Johnson believes that Strawberry’s message can inspire those in uniform because of the challenges they face from the stressors that come with serving their country.
“It’s inspiring the challenges he’s overcome because you realize it’s possible,” said Johnson. “We can overcome challenges, we can overcome opposition and we just have to be willing to do so.”
For those in attendance, Strawberry’s testimony is a reminder that you can overcome any challenge if you are willing to. Tech. Sgt. Michelle Tucker, 60th Air Mobility Wing, chaplain assistant, was moved by Strawberry’s story.
“It was great to hear his story. I’m so impressed with what he has overcome,” said Tucker. “He emphasizes that there’s hope for anyone no matter how bad your situation is.”
Speaking at a military installation is special for Strawberry because he has a son who is serving in the Air Force. And although it’s his first time doing so, he has always appreciated the sacrifices and challenges service members face day-to-day.
“We have a son that is in the Air Force, he’s stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana,” said Strawberry. “This is my first time on a military installation. I’ve seen it from a distance. I’ve always been impressed with it because it’s so important what they do for our country.”
Strawberry’s message is simple. He wants people to know that accepting God and spirituality is what it took for him to overcome his demons. He’s hoping that others will hear that and be open to the same premise.
“My message is God must increase what I must decrease,” said Strawberry. “If I need to get somewhere in life, I must decrease, and let him lead my life or I can never fulfill the promises.”