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Strawberry tutors fielders

June 01, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Darryl Strawberry stood next to the Hagerstown Suns dugout at Municipal Stadium and soaked in some of his past Tuesday.

"I think the only thing that changed here is the fence," Strawberry said, looking out to left field. "That wasn't there when I was here before. You had to hit it over the wall for a home run. It's good to come back to some place that you played in because of all the memories."

Strawberry, an eight-time Major League All-Star, played here in 1981 as a member of the Lynchburg Mets in the Carolina League. He's here now as an unofficial roving outfield instructor for the New York Mets, the parent club of the Suns.

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He plans to work with the team through today's Education Day morning game.

"(1981) was the start of my career," Strawberry said. "It was the year I started to turn things around as a professional baseball player after being drafted No. 1 by the Mets in 1980. I had a decent year, but it all started here."

Strawberry, 42, was one of baseball's impact players of the 1980s and '90s while playing for the Mets, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

At the height of his career, he was a player who fans either loved or hated because of his clutch performances while playing in baseball's biggest cities. He was voted 1983 National League Rookie of the Year and played for four world championship teams in his first eight years.

But the last eight years were marred by injuries, drinking and cocaine addictions that derailed his career. He was suspended from baseball for drug use and served time in prison for tax evasion. He also endured a bout with colon cancer.

He stands as a symbol of both the right way and the wrong way to approach a baseball career.

"There is no way to say that there is a right way to do it," Strawberry said. "You just hope to do all you can for things to catch on in the minors and you go on and catch on at the next level. The minor leagues are part of growing up in baseball. They are the growing pains of baseball and of learning. Then when you are done, you can look back to where you came from."

Strawberry hit 335 home runs and drove in 1,000 runs during his 16-year career, leaving many baseball experts to wonder what might have been without the off-field distractions.

"There is no question that there is a lot of decision-making ... when you get up the ladder," Strawberry said. "The temptations are strong."

Strawberry stepped away from a player development job with the Yankees to spend more time with his church in 2004. The Mets called him this year and asked him to become an instructor for spring training, then asked him to travel to farm teams to help work with and evaluate talent.

"I'm really impressed with (the Suns). They have a lot of talent and they are learning to play the game right," Strawberry said. "The game is the same as when I played. It still takes three outs to get out of an inning and you have to make plays.

"I'm a homegrown Met. If we can help, this would be great for this system. When you get players come through the system, they are homegrown and you don't have to hit the free-agent market. That's the way it was for me back in the 1980s and the Mets want to get back to that."

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