Shea What? Strawberry Goes Back to Queens for a Day
Almost everybody with the Yankees looked out of place, including the team’s mascot mayor, down near the third base dugout at Shea Stadium, wearing his lucky Yankee jacket. Rudy Giuliani sat with George Steinbrenner and both dreamed out loud about a billion-dollar ballpark now that a beam has fallen down at Yankee Stadium. Only in Giuliani’s New York, now built around his own grand vision of himself, can one 75-year-old beam touch off a billion dollars’ worth of crazy baseball spending down the road.
It is amazing that Giuliani didn’t demand a whole new office go up on Madison Ave. to replace the one with the falling bricks. Or a new World Trade Center to replace the one terrorists tried to blow all the way to the Bronx.
Giuliani was at Shea and so was Steinbrenner and so were the Yankees, who came over the Triborough Bridge by bus from the Stadium and beat the Angels, 4-3 6-3, and then got back on the bus and went home. The last time the Yankees had played a game at Shea was 1975, while the city was pouring $100 million for a remodeling job on Yankee Stadium that people now seem to think was done with cheap concrete and Krazy Glue.
Twenty-three years later, forced back to Shea for this one day by the billion-dollar beam, the Yankees looked as out of place as they did in the ‘70s. As they always will away from Yankee Stadium.
Once again they were Yankees in a Met place. All of them except Darryl.
Darryl Strawberry came home for a few hours, played to the kind of big crowd (more than 40,000) he remembered, hit the kind of big home run Shea Stadium remembered from him, expected from him. He hit one against the first time he came back as a Dodger in 1991, and he did the same thing against the Angels.
“The biggest memory I had today was seeing that place filled up like in the early ‘80s,” he said afterward.
In the first two weeks of this season, Strawberry has hit home runs and looked young again. Now he hit one at Shea, where he hit so many home runs when he was young you thought he would end up a baseball immortal. In those days, you thought he might end up with 500 home runs before he was through, or even more than that.
“After all the times I trotted around these bases, I went to a different dugout this time,” Strawberry said.
He came to home plate and made a right turn to the third base dugout, trotted past Giuliani and Steinbrenner, then came back out for a curtain call that was like some vivid snapshot from the middle 1980s, even only Strawberry was in the wrong uniform, and on the wrong side of the field. “Every ballpark is a memory,” the great old Yankee coach Don Zimmer had said before the game
Darryl Strawberry remembered remembered Shea. And Shea, even loud with Yankee fans, remembered him.
“Lord, that young man (Darryl) was something to see in this ballpark,” Zimmer had said in the morning.
Strawberry had 280 home runs by the time he was 29. He still has hit more home runs at Shea Stadium than anybody in history. He left New York and the Mets when the Dodgers threw $20 million at him, and after that came all the years when everything went wrong for Darryl Strawberry.
His life is like some long, lurid novel about modern sports. Modern life. Drinking and drugs and rehab. Injuries and accusations of spousal abuse and even a guilty plea for tax evasion. He nearly did jail time. Steinbrenner gave him what had to be his last chance, even at a time when athletes with talent like Strawberry’s always seem to get as many last chances as they need.
And even after he came all the way back with the Yankees, got another World Series ring, there were was another injury, this time to a knee, stealing last season from him.
So he came back again, had a good spring but then a slow start on the West Coast. The radio hysterics were calling for him to be benched, suggesting he was washed up. Then he started hitting home runs in Seattle and didn’t stop until he went deep at Shea, all the way over the wall and into his own memories of this place, better than anyone else had there before the Mets took back the field to play the Cubs. Zimmer was fired here when he was with the Cubs, in 1991. Joe Torre was fired as Mets manager here.
Darryl was young here. And was again now. After everything, he is still something to see at Shea.