Strawberry Fields 18 Forever

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

It’s too obvious a connection to ignore; It was Strawberry Fields Forever at Citi Field on Saturday, beginning with the organist playing the famed Beatles’ hit leading into the ceremony to honor Darryl Strawberry and the retirement of his uniform number 18.

There were strawberries all over the place. The grounds crew mowed 18 into the centerfield grass. The Big Apple that rises for Mets home runs was repainted into a strawberry. A special limited edition of the Mets Magazine game day program featured Strawberry on the cover and it sold out within minutes of fans entering the ballpark. Alex Cohen, Mets co-owner and President of the Mets Amazin’ Foundation, wore a strawberry decorated sweater vest.

But the Man of the Hour was more than just a colorfully fruity name. Darryl Strawberry is arguably the greatest Mets hitter ever for the franchise, and the difference with his  close second, David Wright (who tops Strawberry in several franchise records), is that Strawberry was a main cog for the team of the ‘80s, culminating with the club’s second World Championship in 1986.

As with any Championship club, a principal ingredient is the camaraderie teammates share and they become forever linked, a family united.

Straw’s teammates from the ‘80s are no exception. They came from near and far – as they did for the retirement of Doc Gooden’s No. 16 in April – to honor their “brother.”  Joining Strawberry at Citi Field for the pre-game presser and on-field ceremony were mates such as: Mookie Wilson, Sid Fernandez, Howard Johnson, Jesse Orosco, Barry Lyons, Rafael Santana, Kevin Mitchell, John Gibbons, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, and John Franco.

friend and former Cincinnati Red Eric Davis, identified by Strawberry as his best friend, also made the journey. And Gary Carter’s widow, Sandy, was on hand to
congratulate Straw as well.

“This is not just about me,” a humble and thankful Strawberry expressed pre-game, “but all these guys I played with. Without these guys, I wouldn’t have had the greatest years  of my career.

“We had a dream. And I’m really grateful we had the opportunity to have the success that we had.”

He singled out many teammates for their friendship and contributions.

“I thank Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson, both as players and as persons, great examples of what a man could be. I wanted to be what they were. I wanted to have the
guts to be what they were. They were drinking milk while I was drinking alcohol.”

And a special shout out to “Mex.” “Keith was one of the greatest players I had the pleasure to play with.”

He was especially grateful for his wife, Tracy, who was the impetus in his going to the hospital a few months ago after coming home from an exhausting road trip looking haggard. He was a walking heart attack.

“I said I was okay, but she said, no, we’re going. She’s always looking after me more than I’m looking out for myself. I almost died.”

He underwent stent surgery in a hospital in St. Louis. It was on the day before his 62 nd birthday in March.

“When I came out of surgery, my heart was at 32%,” Strawberry admitted. He had to wear a heart monitor for a time and now takes four pills every morning and four pills
every night.

“It’s a gift from the Lord that I’m sitting here today. I appreciate life more now and I have my wife to thank for that.”

Darryl and Tracy now live in the St. Louis area, and isn’t that an ironic kick, since one of Strawberry’s most famous home runs was when he bounced one off the clock at old Busch Stadium.

Another memorable bash was an estimated 525-foot shot off the roof at old Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Opening Day in1988. The Mets gifted him a framed reminder of  that shot, as well as a framed 18 jersey during the on-field ceremony.

Darryl met Tracy in rehab 18 years ago. They were married in 2005.

Strawberry’s “job” these days is as an ordained minister, and he travels the country preaching about his Christian faith, while heeding others to avoid the pitfalls he endured.

Yes, it was the stress of travel that put him in the hospital, but he in unwavering in his faith and his devotion to his wife, who helped Darryl initiate Strawberry Ministries, and among other charitable pursuits, they do what they can to promote awareness for autism and aid children with autism.

Darryl is determined to be a better man than his father, who told him he “wouldn’t amount to anything.”

“I came from a dysfunctional home. My father was a raging alcoholic. Coming from a broken situation kept me broken inside as a person. I could never fulfill the happiness
of what I was doing for myself when I was being successful.”

Strawberry looked to the heavens during his acceptance speech and thanked his mother for being the support he needed to become successful.

“I know she would have been proud of me,” Straw said pre-game.

The 6’6” former outfielder had a special level of gratitude for Mets fans.

“I mean this from the bottom of my heart. I’m so sorry for leaving you guys.”

It was a central theme both pre-game and during the ceremony.

“I will always be a Met, honored to have been in the organization, proud of my time in New York.”

He started his acceptance speech by acknowledging, “There’s nothing like being home.”

The old familiar stretched-out “Dar-ryl, Dar-ryl” chant filled the air.

When asked what it took to make it in New York, Strawberry notes, “I had a little bit of craziness in me. You had to have a little bit of craziness to play here.”
Long time Mets fans will remember some of the crazy antics those ‘80s Mets were known for, but the results concluded with a parade down Broadway.

The “Straight Outta Crenshaw” Native Californian took to New York like a native New Yorker.

“I loved the atmosphere. You have to fail to be successful.”

Just like Gooden’s verbal embrace of Mets fans this past April, the Straw Man gave a big verbal hug to the over 30,000 fans in attendance.

“My greatest thank you is to you, the fans. You pushed me to be great, the curtain calls, the boos. It all made the eight seasons here the greatest of my career.”

To properly summarize Strawberry’s career would take the rest of the season to encapsulate.

The eight-time All Star (seven as a Met) was a Rookie of the Year in 1983 (26 homers,
74 RBIs), after being the Mets first round pick in 1980, and first overall. Trivia fans, take note: Joining Straw as first round selections that year (they somehow had three first round picks) were John Gibbons (back with the Mets as bench coach) and Billy Beane(now known for his Billy Ball decisions in Oakland).

Strawberry was labeled as a “black Ted Williams” in a magazine article when he first became a Met, thanks in part to that beautiful sweet swing he could produce way before “launch angle” was in vogue as a description.

Overall, Strawberry played 17 years in the majors, for four teams – the Mets, Dodgers, Giants and Yankees, accruing 335 HRs, 1000 RBIs, 1401 hits, and 221 SBs, with a .357 OBP, .505 SLG, and 862 OPS.

And isn’t that something, that Strawberry may be the only ballplayer to have played for all four franchises that once claimed New York City as its home. Go ahead, try and find someone else who did the same.

His Mets numbers place him first for the franchise in home runs (252), second in RBIs (733), and Walks (580), third in extra-base hits (469) and fifth in stolen bases (191).

And this trivial note seems worth mentioning: No. 18 had an 18-game hit streak in 1990, the longest of his career.

He won the NL home run title in 1988 with 39. And his 252 home runs as a Met place him first amongst all major leaguers during those eight years in New York (1983-90).

Dale Murphy ranks second with 250, Eddie Murray is third with 214, and Andre Dawson is fourth with 213.

How he came to the now retired number 18 was almost happenstance. He was known for wearing number 8 in high school, but when he got to Shea Stadium, that number was being held for Ronn Reynolds, a backup catcher who was in the minors at the time of his call-up, so he opted for the next best thing, 18.
Felix Mantilla (1962), Pumpsie Green (1963), Dennis Ribant (1965), Gary Kolb (1965),
Al Luplow (1966-67), Joe Moock (1967), Duffy Dyer (1968), Jim Gosger (1969), Dave
Marshall (1970-72), George Theodore (1973), Benny Ayala (1974, 1976), Joel
Youngblood (1977-82), Darryl Strawberry (1983-90), Bret Saberhagen (1992-93), Jeff
McKnight (1994), Jeff Barry (1995), Kevin Roberson (1996), Takashi Kashiwada (1997),
Craig Paquette (1998), Todd Haney (1998), Darryl Hamilton (1999-2001), Jeff D’Amico
(2002), Art Howe (2003-04), Marlon Anderson (2005), Jose Valentin (2006), Moises
Alou (2007-08), Jeremy Reed (2009), Ryota Igarashi (2010-11), Tim Teufel (2012-15),
Travis d’Arnaud (2016-19), Rajal Davis (2019), Ryan Cordell (2020), Jose Peraza
(2021), and Nick Plummer (2022).


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