Darryl Strawberry made his major-league debut 30 years ago today against the Reds.
For those who are too young to remember, Darryl Strawberry was a magnet. David Wright and Mike Piazza standing in the batter’s box at the same time might match the excitement that would overcome Shea Stadium’s crowd when Strawberry stepped to the plate.
The line for a hot dog would get rather long at Shea, but when Strawberry came to bat in the ‘80’s, the lines would immediately thin out, the halls would become less full and I’d drop everything -- no matter how close to the cashier I was -- and scurry to the railing to see him hit. I loved everything about the moment: from his slow walk from on deck circle, to the tall stance, the exaggerated leg kick. All of it.
He was captivating. In fact, for an entire summer I switched my batting stance in Little League to incorporate his patented leg-kick. I’d do it in the mirror, checking myself out... but it never looked quite like his. Today, it’s my Wiffle Ball stance, and it works wonders.
On July 3, 1990, I abandoned an attempt to buy a pretzel and fled through the tunnel to see Strawberry hit against Xavier Hernandez, as the Mets trailed the Astros in the late innings. The ball popped from his bat and slammed into the scoreboard, shattering an innocent light-bulb, doing its job to help spell ‘OUTS.’ The bulb remained busted for more than a decade, and was only replaced toward the final days of Shea. I liked when the bulb was out, because it reminded me of his career: so many bulbs, too few at-bats to knock them all out.
Strawberry’s departure for Los Angeles as a free agent in the winter of 1990 was my first realization that professional baseball is as much about money as it is about hitting, running and throwing. In some ways, my view of the game has never been the same. Seeing him come back to the stadium in 2007, strolling nervously around the field, clinging to a bat like I cling to his memory humbled me a bit as a baseball fan. I write this site, obsess over news and rumors and the day-to-day machinations of the team; but, at the end of the day, nothing can match the chilling goose-bumps and the giddy-frenzy that would overcome me when Strawberry grabbed a bat and helmet and put his foot on the dugout’s top step.
He was my favorite player, plain and simple. And while I don’t ignore the tragic storyline that followed his departure from the Mets, I’m not ashamed to admit I will always be grateful for the memories he gave me as a kid.
Thanks for playing baseball, Darryl.