After grounding out in his first two at bats as a member of the San Francisco Giants last Thursday, Darryl Strawberry powered a drive to deep centerfield that the Philadelphia Phillies' Milt Thompson leaped for and caught above the top of the fence. The Candlestick Park crowd of 22,481 gave Strawberry a rousing and, certainly for a man recently released from a drug and alcohol rehab center, heartwarming ovation. "Warning-track power," he joked afterward. Nevertheless, to the fans the long out was a hopeful sign that perhaps the Giants hadn't been simply grasping at straws when they signed the once-mighty but perennially troubled outfielder on June 19.
The news of the signing, when it first appeared on the Candlestick message board, had been greeted by hearty boos from the skeptics in the seats. Indeed, it was impossible to tell at that point whether it was the Straw or San Francisco that was grasping. With Strawberry having been released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, after completing his second trip through rehab in four years, one thing was certain: The famously self-destructive outfielder was, at 32, rapidly exhausting his ration of comebacks. At the same time, the Giants were sinking slowly in the National League West, no mean feat in a division in which only one team was playing—and just barely—better than .500 ball.
San Francisco promptly shipped Strawberry off to Palm Springs for some intensive athletic rehab. By July 2 he was pronounced fit to play, and a press conference was called to spread the glad tidings.
"Back to the media, my old pals," said Strawberry, who was positively resplendent at the conference in a lavender suit and a tie of indeterminate hue. What followed were pronouncements depressingly reminiscent of those made at a press conference held by his first team, the New York Mets, in March 1990, when Strawberry was released from a treatment center in New York and presumed ready to give his all for team and town.
"I take life one day at a time," Strawberry said on both occasions, adding each time, "I'm not a bad person, just a sick person getting well." The difference between then and now, Strawberry hastened to explain, was "this time, I'm doing the footwork. I go to meetings, I've got a sponsor. I know now that if you don't walk the program, you're headed for a relapse. I was living on the edge." To make sure he avoids the precipice, his brother Michael, a church deacon and former Los Angeles police officer, will be Darryl's constant companion at home and on the road.
The Giants sent Strawberry to their Triple A team in Phoenix to prepare himself. He alone would decide when he should return to the big team. After hitting home runs in his first two minor league games, he declared, to everyone's amazement, that he was ready. Strawberry was the first player in the clubhouse last Thursday, and after a conference with manager Dusty Baker, who told Strawberry to relax and not consider himself a messiah, he was inked into the starting lineup for that afternoon's game with the Phillies. The Giants were 15 games under .500 at the time, so what had they to lose?
The day after he was robbed of the home run by Thompson, Strawberry got his first hit for San Francisco, an infield roller. He pinch-hit in last Saturday's game and drew a walk, and then returned to rightfield on Sunday and went 0 for 4. The Giants won all four games.
So far, then, so good. Strawberry's new teammates have accepted him warmly, "not as a savior," as third baseman Matt Williams says, "but as a part of the team." And as Strawberry trotted back to the dugout after his long out last Thursday, with the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears, San Francisco first base coach Bobby Bonds confided to him, "Now, you've finally found yourself a home."
Maybe so, but Giant fans should be alerted to take Strawberry, as he would surely agree, "one day at a time."