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Flavor of Strawberry appreciated

February 3, 2008
By Jim Gregory
During his playing days and even years after he retired with four World Series rings, Darryl Strawberry made as many headlines for his off the field actions as he did for his performances on the field.

I understand his past and have a difficult time not wanting to condemn him for the laundry list of legal and moral indiscretions he has committed.

But how could I, of all people, condemn someone when I, too, (like all of us) have had life moments that I wish I could change?

So I fulfilled a request from Chuck Navasky to perform the duties of master of ceremonies for his Navasky Foundation for Life event Friday, Jan. 25 in Philipsburg.

It meant missing my first-ever Altoona Curve Hot Stove event.

However, a chance to meet Strawberry, Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, the great Mickey “The Quick” Rivers and Roberto Clemente Jr. was just too much to pass up.

I am so glad I accepted the invitation. It was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.

We all make mistakes, and Darryl Strawberry has been given dozens of second chances in his life.

Even with all his baggage, his story, his passion and his interests today are making a difference for so many people. The proverbial pin drop could have deafened the room as he held the 250 people in attendance in the palm of his hand.

During an interview-like setting where I played the role of moderator, I had a chance to query Darryl on his life. Besides what you do know about him, did you also know he holds a golf tournament every year where he has raised millions of dollars for the Darryl Strawberry Foundation for autism?

To hear him discuss his wife’s efforts to help these young children and how he can help with his celebrity presence makes you feel like these kids are now his only focus in life.

As you may recall, Strawberry’s boss was The Boss, George Steinbrenner. And while we all have our thoughts on Steinbrenner, Strawberry presented a passionate description of how Steinbrenner was like a father to him.

Strawberry even discussed how difficult it has been for him to interact with Steinbrenner recently since the Yankee owner has, in Darryl’s words, “lost his mind.”

Many of us can relate to close friends or relatives that are suffering from dementia or Alzheimers. Strawberry was clearly emotional about his friend’s health.

And finally, playing for the Yankees is something that Strawberry is most passionate about. This is a team that gave Darryl a second and third chance when he was at some of his lowest points. He will never forget, though, how playing with the pinstripes on is a privilege so many players will never get but can only wish for.

Add in Mickey Rivers spinning stories of his relationship with Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, Billy Martin and, of course, Reggie Jackson, plus Roberto Jr. (an ESPN Deportes reporter) telling us about his father, and Rozier discussing how going to the Univeristy of Nebraska and not Penn State may have saved his life, and you have a night to always remember.

As Cory Giger asked in his followup story to the Hot Stove dinner, “Who needs Darryl Strawberry anyway?”

I say we could have all used him — as an inspiration to know that no matter how many mistakes we make in life, it is never, never too late to change and make a powerful impact on the lives of those around us.

Jim Gregory resides in Hollidaysburg. He is the former marketing director of the Altoona Curve.

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