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Darryl Strawberry recalls playing days

The 4-time World Series champ played in YSU baseball’s golf outing Monday

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes. Four-time World Series champion Darryl Strawberry laughs after teeing off on the ninth hole Monday afternoon at The Lake Club. He made a guest appearance as part of Youngstown State’s baseball golf outing.

POLAND — When you look at Darryl Strawberry’s professional baseball career, you’d never think he started playing the game at the age of 14, long after most begin their career.

“I fell in love with it, I fell in love with baseball because of Pete Rose,” Strawberry recalls. “Pete Rose was my hero, I idolized who he was, and seeing him play baseball made me get into baseball.

“You had to play catch up, I started off slow, I think we all do when we first start playing but it was getting to the point of developing and knowing what kind of player I can be. I got pretty good at it real fast because I watched it from a television perspective, and that’s how I learned how to play.”

It was one of the many stories that the four-time World Series champion shared during his weekend in Youngstown, which ended with an appearance at the YSU Baseball golf outing at the Lake Club, one of the program’s biggest fundraisers of the year.

Strawberry played 17 seasons in the big leagues, spending the majority of his career with the New York Mets. He also made stops with the Dodgers and Giants before playing his final six seasons with the New York Yankees and helping the Bronx Bombers earn a trio of World Series titles.

Of course, as he looks back, the highlight of his tenure in baseball was the 1986 campaign, that concluded with a World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox following Bill Buckner’s infamous defensive miscue at first base during game six.

“It was unbelievable because most people don’t realize that I was very young. I was 24 years old when I won my first championship. Nobody could ever think you’d be that young and nobody would think that it would happen again,” Strawberry said. “We lost in ’84 to the Cubs, we lost in ’85 to the Cardinals, and we won 98 games that year but lost the division. Coming into spring training (in 1986) and knowing that we were the better team and that were going to go out and dominate that year.

“The thing about our team, what I loved about us, is that we never gave up. We could be down in the game, but we always knew that we could come back and win a game. That was the big difference between ’84 and ’85. ’86 came and we knew that we could come back and win it.”

The Mets would go on to post a record of 108-54 that season. Penguins coach Dan Bertolini admits he’s a bit young to remember the ’80s Mets squads but vividly recalls watching Strawberry during his tenure in the Bronx.

“Had one of the smoothest swings you could ever imagine,” Bertolini said. “He was really the glue on those (Yankee) teams, early on it was his talent, and later on, it was his talent plus his leadership ability, he was fantastic.”

Sporting a traditional New York Mets cap at the Lake Club Monday afternoon, Strawberry is proud to say he competed for both New York franchises and appreciates the success he had in both sets of pinstripes.

He loved trips to Three Rivers Stadium, noting how much he enjoyed batting at the old cookie cutter in Pittsburgh. Pete Rose may have been his idol in the 70s, but by the time the late ’80s and early ’90 rolled around, Strawberry competed against a young Barry Bonds, someone he considers to be one of the best.

“I have great memories of playing the Pirates when they got to the point when they were good when they had Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke. They gave us a run for it in 1990, and they won (the division) that year.

“Those are the memories that always stick with you in different places that you play. When I saw Barry Bonds I realized that he was probably the greatest player I’ve ever saw play baseball at this young age. He would go on to be very successful at what he achieved as a player and I just knew that when I saw him when he first came up.”

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