MANATEE -- Twenty-five years ago, Darryl Strawberry was celebrating with his teammates as the New York Mets downed the Boston Red Sox to win the 1986 World Series.
What followed later, though, was a well-documented descent into drugs, alcohol and myriad off-the-field issues.
After a lengthy battle to get his life on track, Strawberry found God about eight years ago after he hit rock bottom.
Now the ordained minister conveys the message of hope wherever he goes.
This weekend, it’s at the Source Church off State Road 64, beginning with a youth night at 7 p.m. today. Strawberry and his wife, Tracy, will speak twice Sunday, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., in the event titled “True Purpose.”
The events are free, with youth night designed for ages 13-29.
“My life is a prime example. My wife’s life is a prime example,” said Strawberry, who lives in St. Louis, has published a book and has a foundation for autism. “It’s just about trust and believing. And developing a personal relationship like we did. ... I go into the personal details with everything, and sharing with people with my life. And God restored everything.”
It’s the polar opposite of where Strawberry was during his baseball days. The left-handed slugger, who won four World Series rings with the Mets and New York Yankees and whose sweet swing was once compared to that of Ted Williams, was given more than one chance to redeem himself away from the diamond back in the mid-1990s by late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
The man known in the sports world as the “Boss” helped Strawberry by giving him multiple chances.
“He was a man that never got credit for helping people,” Strawberry said. “Everybody just looked at him as a shrewd owner, greedy, winning. Of course, that’s what he was all about. But he’s helped so many people. I wasn’t the only one. ... That’s what he did, and I learned a lot from being a part of his organization. And all the things I learned from him and through my faith showed me it was so important to go back and help others.”
And that’s what Strawberry does, helping people who need it. Unemployment is still rampant around the country and, locally, there are mouths to feed.
At the Source Church on Friday, food packages were stacked inside the building. Ralph and Joanne Hoehne, the lead pastors at the Source, estimate 200 to 300 families get food delivered daily.
“That food hits the ground, and anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, it’s (delivered) ...” Ralph Hoehne said. “That’s why we do the food giveaways. That’s why we do the clothing giveaways, because there’s hurting people and they need help.”
The Hoehnes are the reason the Strawberrys are in town for this weekend’s events.
The couples met in Hawaii while both were speaking at an event.
“Their message is there is no hopeless situation. They’ve been through about as hell as it gets, and there’s still hope,” Joanne Hoehne said. “You don’t just have to be homeless to be hopeless. You can be wealthy to be hopeless, too. Because they’ve been in both. (Darryl’s) had everything, and he’s had nothing.”
Strawberry’s hell was more than eight years ago when he was having trouble staying clean and away from jail. That changed when he said he surrendered himself to Jesus Christ.
Strawberry also said he was more than $3 million in debt and “hopped up on dope” when he was at life’s bottom.
“I’m speaking from experience, and I’m speaking from deliverance,” he said. “I’m speaking from being born again. And born again is having a relationship with God. This isn’t a phase in my life. We’ve been in this for the last eight years, me and my wife. It’s not an overnight thing. It’s a process. ... If you’re chasing the excitement of what the world says, then that’s what it is. Believers chase the excitement of who Christ is in our life. And when you come to an understanding of who He is in your own life, not anybody else’s, but it’s a personal commitment that you have to find yourself.
“And when you find that personal commitment, that’s when you find the freedom. ... I don’t live out in the world like I did. When I was in the world, I was in the world. You’d catch me hanging out at night clubs or strip joints. I no longer do those things, and that’s the difference.”