The Big Leagues and Brokenness
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World-famous baseball player, Darryl Strawberry, and his wife Tracy, recount the story of Darryl’s childhood, his journey with the big leagues, and how God used Tracy in the midst of his darkness to help him see his need for Jesus.
Dave: Alright, a lot of our listeners don’t know where you spent a lot of your childhood.
Ann: —on baseball fields.
Dave: Why is that?
Ann: My dad was a coach—my brother played; my other brother played—we were at every single game.
Dave: In fact, a lot of people don’t know he was my coach.
Dave: And I can remember—like Little League and then middle school/high school—I’d hit a foul ball. I am not kidding; I would see Ann Wilson beating all the boys to get the foul ball. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, yes; I did.
Dave: You were faster, stronger—
Ann: That’s right.
Dave: —you were kicking them out of the way—you’d bring this thing back.
You know, something else our listeners don’t know is that, when I wanted to date you in high school, your dad—
Ann: He told me, “You are not allowed to date Dave Wilson.”
Dave: Do you want to tell people why?
Ann: Dave is three years older, and he had a very poor reputation with partying and with girls. My dad said, “There is no way you are getting close to this guy.”
Dave: Yes; well, guess what? I married her nine months later. [Laughter] So guess who won that one.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
A lot of you will know this name—we have Darryl Strawberry with us today—and his wife Tracy. I’m going to tell you: you are in for a treat, because they have a great story of what God has done. Tracy is like this little fireball, and you’re going to love her as well. They are going to tell their story.
Dave: Yes; so welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Darryl: Thank you guys. Thanks for having us.
Tracy: Thanks for having us; exciting.
Dave: Glad to have you here. You know, a lot of people will, obviously, know Darryl—your story of—and I didn’t know all these stats, and I’m not going to go through them—but four World Series titles, 17 years in the Bigs; am I right?
Darryl: You’re right.
Dave: Eight All-Star appearances—the Mets, the Yankees—we won’t even get into it. I hear you love Boston. [Laughter]
Tracy: Oh my!
Darryl: Yes; now, that my daughter goes to school in Boston; so—
Dave: Yes, that’s right.
Ann: And she’s a volleyball player.
Darryl: She’s a volleyball player.
Darryl: All our kids—the girls played volleyball, three of them—basketball/the boys played basketball. Nobody’s/my boys told me baseball was boring. [Laughter]
Ann: Really? How many kids do you have?—do you guys have?
Darryl: We have nine. We have/I always say, “God’s got a great sense of humor.” [Laughter] Since I played Major League Baseball for 17 years, and accomplished all of these things, He gives me my own little baseball team—nine kids—the starting lineup.
Darryl: You’ve got the two coaches on the side. She is on one side; I’m on the other side, coaching.
Ann: Did any of your kids hate sports?
Tracy: I would say my oldest; he is more of a musician. I have a swimmer—my son, Austin, was a swimmer—so he loves swimming. And then my other son is in the military, so sports weren’t really his thing.
Ann: And you’re blended/your family is blended.
Tracy: Yes, we are a blended family—
Dave: You’ve been married how many years?
Tracy: —blended and blessed, as they say.
Ann: But you’ve been together—
Darryl: —21 years.
Ann: That’s right; you have.
Darryl: She found me in the gutter.
Dave: Well, we want to talk about that! [Laughter]
Dave: I know you don’t want to talk about the gutter too long, but I want our listeners—
Darryl: I love talking about the gutter.
Dave: You do?!—let’s talk about the gutter.
Tracy: Because we are out of it; praise God!
Tracy: We want to help other people get out of that gutter.
Dave: Yes; that’s why I want our listeners to hear—
Dave: —the whole story. I want to start here, because I found it really interesting in your book—oh, and by the way—we didn’t even mention.
Ann: Oh, yes; that’s what we’re doing today. [Laughter]
Tracy: We have too much fun together.
Dave: Yes; you have several books out, but the latest one is Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life. We read it, and it is great!
Ann: Yes, it is.
Dave: And I’m a football guy, so I’m reading a baseball player’s book.
Darryl: Welcome, welcome.
Dave: But it’s not about baseball—yes, welcome to the world—I mean, the great thing is it’s not really about baseball, even though each chapter is: “Inning Number One,” and “Inning Number Two”; but they are chapter titles.
But at the beginning, you dedicate—we’re authors, and that dedication is an important thing; because you are thinking, “Who do I want to say, ‘Thanks,’ to about this?”—and you dedicate this book to Tracy, and several others; but you said—
Ann: —and his mom.
Dave: —and your mom. You said, “God used you [Tracy] to lead me back to Him. I would not be the man I am today without you.”
I thought it would be interesting to start there: “What does that mean?”—because I feel the same way about Ann.
Dave: So when I read that, as a husband—like you, Darryl, I would say the same thing—but we don’t know all that story. We’re going to start at the end, but I want to go back to the gutter; but why would you say you wouldn’t be the man you are today without this woman sitting here, Tracy?
Darryl: What I think happens a lot to guys is we think we can do everything on our own/by ourselves and create the life that we think is best for us; and in reality, God really gives us this helpmate to help us through the process of life.
I think that’s really what it was for me, because I was at the bottom of life. Tracy came into my life, and the Lord used her to lead me all the way back from where I was—from brokenness—and lost in addiction/in drug homes. She was banging on doors, pulling me out. I’m shooting dope, smoking crack; and she is telling me, “God’s got a plan for you.” I said, “Why don’t you and that God just leave me here and let me die?” She goes, “You are just not that lucky!” [Laughter]
I was like, “Wow.” I would just sit back and think, “She’s crazier than I am,”—you know?—“and I’m the one messed up. I’m the one out here, in the pit of life, using; and here it is You’ve given me this woman to bring hope to me in the midst of my darkness.” How many women would do that?—not a whole lot.
Ann: God knew exactly who you needed.
Ann: And she is—she is like a fire—she will fight for you. [Laughter]
Darryl: She is strong.
Darryl: God knew exactly what I needed at that time, because I was broken; I was lost; I was empty. When we started this journey—I mean, she didn’t look at me from the standpoint of playing Major League Baseball, like most women looked at me, being a success and having all this stuff—when I met her, I had nothing; I was $3 million in debt. I didn’t have a driver’s license. I’m wondering why she is chasing me down and saying God has a plan for me.
Ann: You also dedicated the book to your mom.
Ann: Tell us about her a little bit.
Darryl: Yes, my mom was a wonderful woman—a Christian woman—who raised five kids by herself. My father was an alcoholic; he rejected us, beat us, and really told us we would never amount to be anything. He came home for the last time when I was 14. She goes on to divorce my father and leave him. She is taking care of five us by herself, and it was incredible. She was an incredible woman—very strong, very smart, very beautiful, very loving Christian—she loved her faith, and she loved the church. She didn’t raise us wrong; she raised us right.
I made a decision to live the heathen lifestyle. I knew my mother had raised me right; and she made me understand, because I played Major League Baseball, “You are no better than anybody else.
Darryl: “Okay, you play ball. Okay, you accomplished something in your life, but are you saved?” She wanted me to find salvation more than anything.
Darryl: That’s all she really cared about, because on her deathbed—she passed away at the age of 55; she had terminal breast cancer—and my sister found a journal under her bed. Under her bed, in the journal, she was praying to God about saving all of us. Those were her prayers; and her journal said like—when it came to me—she was like, “God, knock him off his throne. Do whatever You have to do, but bring salvation to him.”
I remember, one night, she asked me to pray for her when she was sick; and she was lying in bed. She was, “Darryl, you can pray.” She said, “The Lord just spoke to me.” She said, “You are going to go through it”; but she said, “The Lord said He is going to get it out of you.” This was before everything even hit the fan.
Ann: Yes, where were you in your career at that point?
Darryl: I was at a place, where I was struggling; but at the same time, I was still trying to make comebacks and stuff like that.
Dave: You are in the Major Leagues at this time, I’m guessing.
Dave: You’ve had good success, and you’re struggling. Talk about your journey a little bit in the Major Leagues.
Darryl: My struggle wasn’t about playing; my struggle was about living. I think a lot of times, when you look at athletes, we’re great at playing—but hiding who we are is one of the hardest things you can really do—because the broken part of you eventually is going to show up and show out. That’s what it was for me. I was at the height of my career, playing, being successful, and achieving all these great things; but on the inside, my life was just so empty.
I really needed something different. I didn’t know what it was at that time; because I kept trying to fill myself with: “Well, a new car…” “A new house…” “A new this…” “A new that will make me feel better.” At the end of the day, it never did make me feel well on the inside.
Ann: When did you feel like, “Oh, I was addicted”? Was that a part of your life, growing up in high school/in college? When did the addiction start; do you think?
Darryl: I was addicted at the age of 14.
Darryl: I was addicted to marijuana; I was smoking marijuana. I got kicked out of four junior high schools. I remember my mother dropping me off every day to go to this other junior high school; and as soon as she dropped me off at the bus station, I would turn back and head back home; I missed like 40 days straight. She didn’t know what to do—she didn’t know what to do with me, or my brother Ronnie—because she didn’t really have problems out of the girls. She just had problems out of me and Ronnie. She didn’t have problems with Michael.
But she had problems with me—and Ronnie was struggling—I was struggling. Ronnie was struggling in like all kind of activities—breaking in homes and doing all kinds of things—because we were so broken. My father beat us and made us feel like this big; you know? I said, “I’m never going to touch my kids. I’m never going to do them like that when I have my own kids.” I never put my hands on my own kids, because I was damaged. I was left with these wounds and scars before I ever put a uniform on.
Dave: Obviously, you end up in the Bigs; I mean, right out of high school? Am I right, or did you do some college?
Darryl: No, I went to the minors; I went to the minor leagues. I came out of high school; I was the number-one pick in the draft—
Darryl: —first pick in the draft, 1980. I went to the minor leagues; I spent two-and-a-half years in the minor leagues, and then I got to the Big Leagues at the age of 21—
Darryl: —in 1983. I just remember being in spring training that year and playing well, and all the guys liking me. Then I thought to myself: “Man, these guys like me. My father didn’t like me, and these guys like me,” and “I want to fit in.”
I got to the Big Leagues—and my first road trip, there it was—a veteran player said, “Go back to the bathroom,”—and that’s how I got introduced to cocaine. He said, “Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid.” I just thought—you know, I needed to fit in—“These guys like me; they accept me.” So I hit it, and I liked it.
Then they took me out that night. When I got to the hotel, they said, “Go drop your bag off and meet us down in the bar.” They took me out; they took me out to the club, and there it was. They just kind of—like threw it in my lap—they said, “Welcome to the League, kid.” I thought, “Man, I have arrived. My father said I would never be anything,”—and I felt that way—and I felt like these guys liked me, and they accepted me for just who I was and everything. There I was, coming to the Big Leagues.
I learned all the things the wrong way, coming to the Big Leagues. I was multi-talented; I could play. Like most guys—you know, you see play sports—they’ve got all the talent, but do you have the character?
Dave: Right; right.
Darryl: It’s a big difference in just playing and not having character because, if you don’t have the character, that part is going to catch up with you somewhere along the line. That’s where it caught up with me, along the way in my career—the character of who I was really caught up to me—because I didn’t have a foundation; I didn’t have a solid foundation. I had a foundation of playing. I could get up every day and play—and go out drink, party, women—and come to the ballpark, and I would just turn it on—you know?—because I was a player.
I just remember Tracy coming into my life. I just remember her saying to me, “When are you ever going to take that uniform off?!” That really stuck to me after all the struggles that me and her had—went through back and forth and everything—then she was talking about taking the uniform off. I had never heard that before; because she was like, “You’re identifying yourself as the wrong person. When are you going to identify yourself in Christ? When are you going to do what God’s called you to do?”
I was never pushed in that area to figure that part out—because the baseball uniform: the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Giants/teams I played for—they always say the name on the back; it will always be the same last name: Strawberry’s never changed. There I was—left in that place, thinking about that—when she had made that comment to me. I was like, “Man, she’s right. When am I ever going to take this uniform off and become the man that God wants me to be?”
Ann: Well, let me ask you: “As you were in the League, did you ever see players that professed to be Christ followers and they were living it?”
Darryl: Oh, no question: Mookie Wilson and Gary Carter—probably two players out of the whole clubhouse—and you watch their life, and they are such a great example of loving God, and loving their family, and then baseball—but most of us had it—baseball and everything else that came along with it. Most of us were lost, and these two guys had such great foundation of being a man.
Dave: One of the greatest things that ever happened to you—second to your walk with Jesus, which we are going to hear about—is sitting right there, Tracy. I mean, when you walk into his life, what did you find with Darryl?
Ann: And Tracy, it’d be good to know, too, where were you at that time? You guys had been together for a while, even before you got married.
Tracy: Yes; when we first met, we were both at the lowest parts in our life. I had just had one year clean and sober. I was, literally, one-week saved. I was trying to figure out what the word, “saved,” meant. Darryl was at his worst; you know, $3 million in debt. He was still struggling to stay clean and sober.
I was losing custody of my three sons, because of active addiction. That was the price I paid and how far down the scale I had gone. I was raised in a wonderful family; I did not have the same story that Darryl had, which means afflictions and addictions can happen to anyone. Let me encourage you: “You don’t have to prove yourself worthy of getting out, or having a story that’s dysfunctional, to understand that you can get lost; but there is hope, and redemption, and restoration in Jesus Christ.”
When he and I first met, we were both at the bottom. We were attracted by our pain, and that’s a very dangerous thing. We had this desire to love; but we did not have the ability to love, which is such an entirely different thing. We weren’t capable of loving one another. We did not talk about baseball at all. I saw Darryl sitting in a chair, at a recovery conference, where we met. He was skeletal; they had just found him again like in the back of a trash can on the street.
Dave: When you say gutter, you’re—
Tracy: —literally, the gutter.
Dave: —talking gutter.
Ann: Darryl, you were done with baseball at that time?
Darryl: I was done with baseball at that time.
Ann: How many years had you been out?
Darryl: I think it was a couple of years. I ended up in prison, Florida State Prison, with a T17169.
Tracy: —his prisoner number.
Darryl: I can never forget that number; I was thinking about that number. I remember having cancer twice and losing my left kidney in my second surgery. I always looked at God was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He was stopping me at every stop, so I wouldn’t kill myself.
Dave: —trying to get you to look up.
Darryl: Some of us, He has to really do it, like with me, to be able to stop me and put me in places to slow me down. It was all a part of His plan. Tracy was all a part of His plan, coming into my life, where she was and everything. He would eventually take her and use her to lead me all the way back. That was a process.
People always talk about: “Well, look at you guys’ life now.” But I sat for seven years—when me and her got together—God made me sit to get discipled. I was so mad; I was like, “God, why are You always talking to Tracy, and You don’t talk to me?” [Laughter] He goes, “Because she spends time with Me.”
See, I didn’t realize she had a one-on-one encounter time with God; and that was her time, when she gets up every morning, because she still does that today. She gets up at 5:30 in the morning; and she goes and studies; and she’ll go be with God and pray and everything. I realized, “Well, God, I’m not waking up at 5:30 in the morning.” He was just like, “Well, you’re never going to get where you need to get if you don’t get to this place of spending time with Me.” That’s what happened.
I was sitting for those seven years—which was great—I don’t know why He had to sit me seven years, but He sat me for seven years before He released me before I could go out speaking or anything. He made me come to a place of humility. Tracy was empowered with wisdom and knowledge of the Word of God—her in depth—who she is as a teacher and everything. I didn’t have that from the beginning, because I wasn’t spending time with God. You can never fulfill the promises over your life until you actually spend that time with God. That’s what happened to me; I had to spend that time.
So what did I start doing? I started staying up at night, because she goes to bed at 8/8:30. I started staying up at night, and turning off the television, and putting the cell phone away; and I started saturating myself in the Word of God. I started studying the Word with God—and there it was—I started having the relationship with God for myself, just like she was having.
Ann: So take us back to you’re in this recovery room, and there is Darryl.
Tracy: We have a conversation. I am at a place in my life, where I don’t know if I am really sold out on Jesus or not, even though I’ve given Him my life; because I am angry with Him. I’m very angry, so I’m having this inner turmoil and this inner struggle of surrendering my own life to Christ. What I do know is I’ve had enough; and the enemy has taken too much from me, because I gave him permission. I wasn’t obedient; I wouldn’t listen. I did not take ownership of my life and my mistakes, and it was time to do that.
When I saw Darryl, and met Darryl, there was this love in this man—this genuine truth—inside of him that anyone could see. That’s why everyone loved Darryl Strawberry, regardless of how far down the scale he went. He was honest with you; he even told me, “Girl, you don’t want to mess with me. I’m going to put you through it.” When I first met Darryl, my first words to him were, “I don’t care what you did for a living, how many home runs you hit. There is a reason why people like you and I are in this room right here; we’re broken.”
I was just very kind of “in your face” to him, guarded; but he—I was ready to leave—he grabbed my hand. He said, “Why don’t you stay?” We’re at a hotel recovery convention; it was full. I was just disgusted and wanted to leave, because people could not see the soul of Darryl Strawberry. They were still coming to this man—who was probably a hundred pounds, soaking wet, almost dead—still pulling for an autograph/still pulling for their picture. I’m like, “I can’t deal/I can’t deal with this. I’m disgusted with people; I’m disgusted with my life. I don’t want to deal with this.”
Ann: And yet, Tracy, you saw the true identity of a child of God in him.
Tracy: Absolutely; yes—who God created him to be—who God creates all of us to be. It just takes that someone special to stand before you and say, “There is greatness in you; there is genuineness in you. There are gems on the inside of you. Now, if you are willing”—but you have to be willing—“if you are willing to walk the walk, I’m going to jump in here with you; and I’m going to help pull you out; but you’ve got to come forward.”
Dave: That is so true. We’ve got to get into identity, because Darryl is trying to find his.
Dave: I’ll tell you what—in 30-plus years, working with pro-athletes, I know this—they are always treated as a pro-athlete. When somebody recognizes them as a person—that’s what you did—it might have been one of the first times in Darryl’s life. I don’t know; you’ll have to tell us on the next episode—but it’s like, “There, somebody sees me—not my jersey, not my number, not my stats—they see that I’m a human being, not just a…” Every player knows, “This isn’t who I am; this is what I do.
Tracy: That’s right.
Dave: “And God has gifted me.” But you saw the soul.
Dave: I think, in our marriages, the same thing is happening. We are hoping our spouse will see us as a man/as a woman, and love us as an image bearer of the image of God, and treat us from there with respect.
Bob: The great thing about Darryl and Tracy Strawberry’s story is the turnaround, that we’ve heard about today, is available to any person, who is willing to own up to the mess that their life has become, and turn to Christ, and surrender to Him. This is the message of the gospel that Jesus came, not just to save us from eternal punishment, but to save us from the mess we’ve made of our own lives/to bring beauty from the ashes of our lives.
Darryl has shared his story in his book, Turn Your Season Around, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s a great story of God’s redemptive work in someone’s life. We have copies available. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of the book is Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, the kind of transformation we’ve heard Darryl and Tracy talk about today is what is at the heart of all that we do, here, at FamilyLife. We are committed to the goal of effectively developing godly marriages and families, turnarounds in marriages and families—that for whatever reason—you’ve gotten off in the ditch; things have gotten messy—you need help; you need hope. That is what FamilyLife Today is here to provide.
In this last week of August, we are continuing to ask listeners in every city, where FamilyLife Today is heard, “Would you be one of two new families in your community, who would step forward and say, ‘We believe in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We want to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. We’d like to join you as a monthly supporter’?”—what we call a Legacy Partner, someone who invests each month in the ministry of FamilyLife Today so it can continue to be heard in this community and in cities all across the country.
If you would be one of those two families, stepping forward in your community, we would love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a few items. We’d like to send you Dave and Ann Wilson’s new book, No Perfect Parents. We’d also like to send you access to more than a dozen messages from Dave and Ann: some of which have been featured on FamilyLife Today; some, you’ve not heard before.
And then, we’d like to send you a certificate so that you and your spouse—or you can pass this onto someone you know if you’d like—can attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. The certificate covers the registration cost, and it’s our gift to you when you join us as new monthly Legacy Partner.
Find out more or sign up today. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’d just ask that you pray—ask the Lord—“Would You want me to be a FamilyLife Today Legacy Partner?” If God says, “Yes,” then go online or pick up the phone and give us a call.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Darryl and Tracy Strawberry about the turnaround that God has done in their lives, and in their relationship, and how that turnaround is available to any of us. That comes up tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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