Less than 1 percent of high school baseball players make it to the Major Leagues. I was one of the fortunate ones. Raw talent and a determination to prove my worth to a father who said I’d never amount to anything paved the way to my becoming an 8-time all-star, 4-time World Series champion, and a New York Mets Hall of Famer.
Being chosen to represent teams like the Mets, the Dodgers, the Giants, and the Yankees is indescribable. If you’ve ever competed athletically, you know the perseverance it takes to overcome ongoing physical pain, setbacks, and mental frustration, as well as tough competition and naysayers. To have success at any level of sports takes discipline and sacrifice.
The New York Mets drafted me straight out of high school and sent me to play for the Kingsport Mets in the Appalachian League. I was the number one draft pick at 18 years old.
My manager reminded me daily, “Making it to the big leagues takes a lot of work. You might get there if you focus on your goal and train for it.” There was no guarantee, but I hoped that if I kept my head down and played hard, I’d get to prove myself in the majors one day.
So you can imagine my excitement when, in the spring of 1983, I got the call. I was preparing to play another game for Kingsport when the blessed words, “We want you, Darryl,” came down from above. The New York Mets were calling me up.
I tried to play it cool and act like it was no big deal the day I walked into the NY Mets clubhouse. But it was a big deal. There, in a room with some of MLB’s greatest, hung a Met’s uniform in a locker with my name on it—Strawberry.
Team members welcomed me into their prestigious club with handshakes and slaps on the back. They had heard about the tall, gangly kid who, according to the media, was supposed to be the next Ted Williams. They welcomed my talent, especially if it could help lead them to a World Series championship title.
My first few games were rocky. I was playing with the big boys now; settling in would take time. The media was harsh, but I stayed focused. And then, one night, it all came together. Crack! The ball went soaring. I started running. And the crowd went wild. I was on my way to becoming Rookie of the Year.
As a Met, I had everything I thought would make me happy. Lucrative contracts, fancy cars, huge houses, and lots of women. I had man’s applause, accolades, power, and prestige. Heads turned when I walked into a room, and opportunities came running.
Most importantly for me, being a Met provided a place to belong and a sense of worth. It was proof that I was a somebody and that I had done something right.
For most of my young life, I had heard otherwise. My abusive, alcoholic father told me daily that I was worthless. “You’re no good, boy. You’ll never amount to nothin’.” Dad made it clear through his words and actions that he didn’t want me.
My mother, a godly woman, tried to reassure me of my worth. She loved me and my siblings dearly and taught us Christian values. But the scars left by my father’s abuse and harsh words took precedence. No matter how successful I became, I couldn’t shake the belief that I was a worthless failure.
Placing my worth in being a professional athlete was dangerous, however. Being a Met was a temporary position, as was being a Dodger, a Giant, and a Yankee. It didn’t matter how many home runs I hit, how many bases I stole, or how many outs I forced—eventually there’d be a day when the stadium lights would go down, I’d clean out my locker, and I’d return home for good.
Some of my career endings came by choice. Frustrated or disappointed, I’d seek a change, like when I left the Mets, became a free agent, and signed with the Dodgers. That move led me to sign the second-highest contract in baseball at that time—over 20 million dollars. Most career endings, however, were forced upon me due to my poor performance, sports injuries, surgeries, cancer, and of course, my bad behavior.
I was an out-of-control alcoholic, a drug and sex addict, and a womanizer for the 17 years I played professional ball. Teams grew tired of the negative attention my poor choices brought to their franchises.
It didn’t matter that I was still playing well and helping lead them to World Series championships. I was too much of a liability and distraction. My IRS scandal, domestic abuse charges, drug use, and incarceration caused sensational, national headlines. I was no longer worth their investment.
No matter the reason, being released was always an incredible blow to my self-esteem. Perhaps my most humiliating moment came when the Yankees didn’t renew my contract after a string of injuries. I was forced to play in an independent league up north that, unlike the minor league teams, wasn’t even affiliated with a major league franchise.
I wasn’t a prima donna or anything, but I was a world champion and an all-star. I was Darryl Strawberry, for goodness sakes!
And I had left Yankee Stadium to play for a team I’d never heard of, in a league I’d never heard of, with washed-out veterans and aspiring teens. I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. Playing ball was the only thing I knew how to do and the only place I felt I belonged. Being a baseball player had been my identity since I was a kid.
The most painful thing about being released was knowing that I was no longer wanted. Every time a team said, “we don’t want you anymore,” I heard my father’s words: “You’re no good, boy.” Cementing the message of those words further were my two failed marriages, the loss of my six children, and an inability to escape the addiction I struggled with daily.
Throughout my career, I experienced regular seasons of depression. There were days I couldn’t even get out of bed to make it to the ball field. Other days, I tried to comfort my broken, rejected heart by hitting the streets, hanging out in crack houses and bars, and visiting the bedrooms of strange women.
The belief that I was a failure—a big fat zero, an absolute nobody—led to my destruction. I blew through the world like a hurricane, leaving a path of rubble. Ultimately, I lost everything, including my family, money, houses, cars, health, career, and reputation. And I hurt many people in the process.
In these low points of my life, though, I still heard God whispering the words I’d always longed to hear: “I want you, Darryl.”
Why God would want a messed-up knucklehead like me, I couldn’t imagine. I was three million dollars in debt, twice divorced, estranged from my children, hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol, and banned from Major League Baseball. My name was mud in this world.
I had never heard the promise of 1 Corinthians 1:26–28. It teaches that God chooses to love and use the people the world despises, casts aside, and counts as nothing, even those who mess up in life and hurt others. I summarize this verse this way: God chooses the knuckleheads of this world to join His team. Thank goodness.
Momma tried to tell me that God loved and wanted me and that He had an excellent plan for my life beyond baseball. I believed God existed and that Jesus Christ had died for me, as John 3:16 says. There were even moments I’d set out to follow Him. But they were only that—moments. As soon as life’s trials appeared, I returned to my old ways and the comforts of the world, even though I knew how destructive they were (Matthew 13:1–25).
Over and over, Momma warned me, “You can run, Darryl, and you can hide. But eventually, you’ll have to surrender to the Lord and do what God calls you to do.”
She was right. Eventually, I surrendered and stepped into my calling, but not until my stubborn, rebellious self took me down incredibly dark and painful roads. I had to come to the end of myself before I was willing to say, “Okay, God. You can have me. I’m ready to go all-in with You. I’ll join Your team and start playing according to Your rules. I refuse to be a spectator any longer. Put me in the game, Coach!”
And you know what? Despite all those times before that I’d ignored or refused Him, the minute I said those words, God welcomed me with open arms and without the tiniest hint of judgment (Luke 15:11–32).
Accepting my place on God’s team is the best decision I ever made. My life changed as I committed to my relationship with Jesus, building my life on biblical principles, and living in the power of the Holy Spirit. God helped me become the man I’d always longed to be.
I’d spent years willing myself to be a better son, husband, and father, but I failed every time. I joined recovery programs, entered rehab centers, and even went to prison. But none of that brought lasting change. Why? Because willpower, incarceration, and most programs don’t deal with underlying issues. They only try to stop behavior.
I was a kid who had been rejected and abused by his father. I was a man who had made terrible mistakes. My heart was full of anger, bitterness, self-loathing, fear, distrust, unforgiveness, and pain. It housed physical and emotional traumas that continually overrode my best intentions and efforts.
An unhealed heart is a dangerous thing—but, thanks be to God, when I surrendered my heart to Him, He gave me victory over my past trauma and present sin through the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57). I became a new man because Jesus healed, fulfilled, and transformed me. It was like 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.”
God gave me a new identity. I, Darryl Strawberry, am now a child of God. My worth is no longer linked to baseball or what anyone says about me. You can find my name on God’s roster, which is the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 3:5, 20:15). And you know what? My place with Him is eternal.
Unlike the world of baseball, God isn’t in the business of trading His players or sending them home. He will never cut me loose. When He chose me, it was forever. Nothing I do, nothing I don’t do, and nothing this world sends my way can separate me from His love (Romans 8:37).
Besides, God’s choosing me was never based on my performance. It’s only based on my faith in what He did for me (Ephesians 2:8–9). God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for my sin (John 3:16). Jesus willingly stepped up to the plate and went to bat for me. He took the punishment for my sin, death, so that I could have life (Romans 6:23). God’s grace, not my works, gave me a spot on His team.
Knowing I am accepted and loved unconditionally brings me peace. And it encourages me to continue to take to God’s field and assume my position daily as a minister of His grace. There’s no better place to be. World Series championship titles, money, fame—none of these things even come close in comparison.
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to accept your place on God’s team. God wants you, my friend. Yes, you. The outcast. The knucklehead. The one who’s continually swinging and missing.
You’re the one He wants to love, accept, and use. He’s got a “uniform” with your name on it. By faith, it’s time to put it on!
Let me help you. Pray with me, “God, today by faith, I receive my place on Your team. I’m tired of playing for the world and sitting on the sidelines. Life apart from You only leads to disappointment, frustration, pressure, and pain. I’m sorry I’ve run from You so many times. I surrender my mind and will to You and eagerly take my place on your team. Use me. Forgive my sin. Heal my heart. Renew my mind. Teach me Your ways. Put me in the game, Coach—I’m ready to play!”
That, my friend, is the best decision you’ll ever make. His is the greatest team you can ever join.
Darryl Strawberry dazzled many with his baseball career. This legend is one of the most feared home-run hitters in baseball history. Today, though, Darryl’s purpose and passion is serving the Lord by speaking a message of hope and helping others transform their lives through the power of the gospel. He has several published works including Finding Your Way, Turning Your Season Around, and The Imperfect Marriage, coauthored with his wife, Tracy. For more information, visit findingyourway.com.