RAY NEGRON was writing when George Steinbrenner first met him, in 1973. The 17-year-old Negron, Bronx born and raised, was spray painting graffiti on a wall outside Yankee Stadium. Fortunately for Negron, the Boss was in a benevolent mood. Instead of calling the police, he dragged Negron into his office, gave him a job as a batboy and told him, "Make me feel proud of you."
Now 51 and a special assistant to the Yankees' owner, Negron is still scribbling. Last year he published The Boy of Steel, a children's book about a young cancer patient who becomes a batboy and meets Yankees greats who have also fought the disease; next month the story comes to the stage. A one-act play adapted from the book will be performed on Aug. 18 at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx to benefit a children's charity. It's not quite Broadway, but the production will have star power: Negron's friend Darryl Strawberry will make his stage debut, playing a character in the book named Strawberry, who bears a striking resemblance to Darryl himself.
Strawberry's acting r�sum� is short—guest appearances on the sitcoms Between Brothers and Doctor Doctor and a voice-over on The Simpsons—but Negron had no reservations about casting him. He thought Strawberry's experience as a colon cancer survivor made him perfect for the play. "He seemed very comfortable," director Rich Ramirez said after Strawberry's first read-through last week. "He's just drawing from his own personal experience."
The production will also feature actor Luis Guzm�n, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay and former catcher Jim Leyritz. "If you allow me to be myself, I'll be natural," says Strawberry. "I could just be me and act as a patient with cancer because I've been there and I've experienced it for myself." Negron has another kids' book hitting shelves next year, but don't expect Straw to show up if it's adapted to the stage. "I don't have the stomach for it," Strawberry says.