For those who are too young to remember him, Darryl Strawberry was electric. Carlos Beltran 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 can get rather long at Shea, and, these days, when Piazza leaves the on-deck circle, I occasionally leave the line to go see him hit.
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, and scurry to the railing to see him bat.
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 sprung from his bat and slammed into the scoreboard, shattering an innocent light-bulb, doing its job to help spell the word ‘OUTS.’ The bulb remained busted for more than a decade, and was only recently replaced. To me, the busted bulb represented Strawberry’s career: so many bulbs, and 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 physically playing the game. In some ways, my view of the game has never been the same.
Seeing the images of Strawberry in Mets camp this week, strolling nervously around the field, clinging to a bat like I cling to his memory, humbled me a bit as a baseball fan. I like to think I know a lot about statistics, in-game fundamentals and free agency, rumors and rumblings. At the end of the day, though, 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 child.
Welcome home, Darryl.