Almost immediately the Jefferies feared they had made a big mistake. As soon as Gregg joined the Kingsport (Tenn.) Mets in the Appalachian League that spring, he became acutely homesick. "The minute I got there I was lost and depressed," he says. "I was 17 and living alone in a Sheraton."
Two days after Gregg left home, Joan and Rich arrived for a short visit and ended up staying 10 weeks. Gregg moved in with teammate Mark Willoughby's aunt and uncle, who happened to live in Kingsport, and his parents took up residence in a trailer in the backyard. "When I had a bad night at the ballpark, I'd go to the trailer and stay with my folks," Gregg recalls. "They were my support system. They helped me cope with disappointments."
After the season was over Gregg asked his parents to spend 10 weeks with him every summer. They agreed, deciding to stay in hotels near the ballparks, but not too near Gregg's apartment. "We are always there if he needs us, but we want him to grow up on his own," Rich says.
The Mets called up Jefferies for five weeks last September. When he arrived at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego to join the team, the security guards refused at first to let him into the clubhouse because they said he looked too young for the majors. Later, on a day off in Los Angeles, he bumped into several of his new teammates in the hotel lobby. They were dressed in jackets and slacks and were on their way to Las Vegas. Gregg was wearing surfer shorts and was headed to Disneyland with his folks.
His first big league at bat came on Sept. 6, in the 14th inning of a 16-inning 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in L.A.. "When Davey told me I was going to hit, I wanted to, but I didn't want to," Gregg says. "After I popped out to third, people in the stands yelled that I was overrated, that I should go back to Jackson."
On the flight back to New York, Strawberry sat next to Jefferies. "Darryl was the first player to tell me what the majors were going to be like," Gregg says. "He calls me Kid."
What wisdom did the Straw impart?
"I told him the most important thing is to be himself," Strawberry says.
Two days later, on Sept. 8, Jefferies got his first major league hit, a single, off the Philadelphia Phillies' Bruce Ruffin at Shea Stadium. By the time his big league stint was over, he had picked up three hits in six at bats.
Back in San Bruno, in February, Gregg staged a surprise 25th anniversary party for his parents. The menu included a prime rib dinner with champagne and a miniature wedding cake for dessert. Gregg even hired a disc jockey who played Wake the Town and Tell the People by Les Baxter and his Orchestra. In the eighth grade, Rich had asked Joan to go steady to that song.