Before ValleyCats game, Strawberry shares powerful message about addiction, recovery

Former MLB star Darryl Strawberry talks to the media before the Tri-City ValleyCats game on Thursday. 

Former MLB star Darryl Strawberry talks to the media before the Tri-City ValleyCats game on Thursday. 

TROY — Dead arm.

Live voice.

Darryl Strawberry half-heartedly lifted his left arm on Thursday evening to demonstrate to the media that the cannon he deployed from right field, mostly for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in the 1980s and ’90s, no longer held shot or powder.

He was due to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the Tri-City ValleyCats’ game against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and gave a chuckle and a succinct answer when asked if he still had any kind of velocity left: “Nope.”

Blessed with immeasurable talent on the baseball field, Strawberry won one World Series with the Mets and two with the Yankees while contributing production and performance equally fearsome and graceful at the plate and in the outfield.

His history off the field, meanwhile, will make your head swim.

Multiple arrests, including once for soliciting sex from a policewoman posing as a prostitute. Probation. House arrest, at drug treatment centers. Jailtime.

These days, he’s 16 years sober and counting. His appearance at the ValleyCats game was met by a long line of fans, many more in Mets gear than anything else, but more importantly was an opportunity for Strawberry to continue to use his platform in support of people fighting their own addictions and seeking recovery.

He may not be able to throw a baseball anywhere remotely close to like he used to, but when it comes to communicating his message about the vital role communities must play to help people who need it, Strawberry is right on target.

“There’s a crisis in this country, and it’s going to take people to step forward and help the multitude of people who are struggling with addiction,” he said. “No life should be thrown away, regardless of what they go through. We’ve dealt with this for too long, of saying about people with addiction problems, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Well, what’s wrong with them is they have a disease, just like cancer. And we need to treat it like that.”

Before Thursday’s game, Strawberry talked to people associated with the Rensselaer County Heroin Coalition, a program established by county executive Steve McLaughlin in 2016 to address the public health crisis stemming from opioid addiction.

“You all know, this county, every county, every town, every city in the entire nation is dealing with this opioid epidemic,” McLaughlin told the media before turning the podium over to Strawberry. “And it’s killing far too many of our folks. Just the other day here in Rensselaer County, we had five fatal overdoses, and that is five too many.”

There was extra power behind Strawberry’s message because he’s been through the painful process of addiction and recovery, compounded by a bout with colon cancer that was diagnosed in 1998 and eventually spread to his lymph nodes.

“I think anybody that is a recovery carries a lot of weight to help somebody else,” he said. “Because they’ve experienced the pitfalls of life. They know what it’s like to be at the bottom, and they know what it’s like to go through the process of getting well.

“I didn’t get well overnight. But even with that, it takes other people to be a part. You have to have people in government, people in a position that don’t make it about themself and they make it about caring about other people.”

He repeatedly returned to the theme of addiction as a disease, and not a character flaw.

Strawberry believes that transforming that perception is a crucial step on the way to creating a public health environment that fully supports those striving for recovery from drug addiction.

“We’ve got to change the stigma,” he said. “We’ve got to change that, that if somebody has an addiction problem, they’re weak. That’s not the case. It’s an illness. Just like when people suffer with cancer we don’t say they’re weak. They need chemo. Addiction is a disease, too, and if they get the proper help and find direction, they can recover. That’s what we have to fight for.”

“That’s why this day is dear to my heart. I’m in long-term recovery, and of course my story was publicized all across the news and everything. Many times people laughed about it and said, ‘Well, he’s a loser.’ Well, no, I stand here today, and I’m not a victim, I’m an overcomer, just like other people can. They can overcome it with the support, the support of the community, not just me. It’s got to be out there, because the drugs are not going anywhere.”

This, after all, was Darryl Strawberry, so there had to be baseball questions, too.

On the subject of ValleyCats manager Pete Incaviglia, whose major league career dovetailed with much of Strawberry’s, Strawberry said, “He played with the Phillies, so, you know … think about it, we used to beat up on them.”

On the subject of having playing substantial chunks of his career with the Mets and Yankees, Strawberry said, “Well, it’s pretty cool, because they [fans] like to fight over it. I just get to be in the middle of it. I don’t have to say a whole lot about it.

“Mets fans can’t stand the Yankee fans, they always say, ‘I hate when you were in the Yankee uniform.’ They go at it a lot, but it’s good to see they still have that inner rivalry between them that they don’t like each other no matter what.”

On the subject of Thursday’s first pitch, he said, “It’s a dead arm.”

Naturally, he was more expansive talking about his current passion.

On that subject, he fires heat, straight through the heart of the plate.

“There’s nothing great about me,” Strawberry said. “I just made a better decision. I made a better decision to let other people help me get to where I’m at today. I could never imagine that I go from baseball, through drug addiction, and to be standing on a pulpit for 16 years now, preaching. People do recover, they move on and life shows up in a different way for them.

“It’s not about me, it’s about going back and to reach and help somebody else. I think when you do that, you get over yourself, you get outside of yourself. Now you make it about the circumstances of somebody else’s life, and you want to help them because you’ve experienced the transformation in your own life. That’s a big difference between walking home after a ballgame, after I’d done well on the field.

“You’re talking about saving a life now.”

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