Strawberry finding new ways to preach his message of love
NEW YORK -- Former Mets and Yankees slugger Darryl Strawberry has been a traveling minister for more than a decade, and he's found a new venue to preach the gospel -- the penitentiary.
Strawberry, 60, made it known recently that he wants to pay it forward when visiting troubled individuals in the prison system. As recently as November, he visited two New Jersey penitentiaries, and he came to the conclusion that all the inmates needed was love.
“That was something that was lacking in their lives growing up -- being loved,” Strawberry said via telephone. “Love conquers everything -- to be able to know that you are loved regardless of what has happened in your circumstances.”
Strawberry has attained much success, one of the top sluggers for the Mets during the 1980s and a valuable bench player during the Yankees dynasty of the 1990s.
“[The inmates] know I don’t have to do it," he said. "The people -- the wardens -- that run and control the facility realize I’m not coming in there for a show."
But he also knows what it’s like to be incarcerated. In 2002 he served a little more than a year of a 22-month sentence for violating non-drug-related rules at his drug treatment center.
“The biggest thing I learned while I was [in prison] was, I didn’t belong there,” he said. “I realized it was becoming a part of my journey of what was happening to me and where I was in life at the time. At the same time, the love I’ve received from other people while I was away was really important for me."
Strawberry’s siblings and Mets historian Jay Horwitz provided the love while he was incarcerated.
“Jay didn’t have to come see me when I was locked up,” Strawberry said. “He would get my opinion on some things. It was just the love that had him think of me as someone important. I paid attention to all the details of my life when I was going through my struggles -- the unconditional love that people were giving to me at that time.”
While in prison, Strawberry thought about his mother, Ruby, who was the most positive influence in his life, who told her son to show respect no matter who he was and what he went through, as well as former Mets teammate Gary Carter.
Strawberry said Carter’s love was different from that of other players he met.
“[His] love was sincere,” Strawberry said of Carter, who passed away in 2012. “I watched him from a distance. I admired what he had in his life. I wasn’t one of those guys who were jealous or envious toward him. Why would I be? I was young and great at what I was doing. …
“I thought he lived life with love in his heart. He displayed it and made sure that everybody knew he loved and cared for them regardless if you didn’t love him or not. That’s very powerful. I learned some valuable things from him that helped me spring forth in life. I want to give that back to somebody else.”
Strawberry is planning to visit more penitentiaries around the U.S. this year and assure inmates that their lives are not over.
“The [inmates] need to hear from someone like me about the importance of life not being a mistake,” he said. “I’ve had an enjoyable time [talking to them]. I’m probably going to do a lot of prison ministry this year, even cutting away [from] going to a lot of churches to speak. I just feel compelled to go back behind the gates and be a part and speak life with those guys.”