In an incredibly poignant moment in Straw: Finding My Way, Darryl Strawberry writes, “I really don’t know what it is about me that has made fans so kind to me over the years.”

But it’s the perspective from Strawberry as his life spun out of control and the steps he took to finally seize the helm before it was too late -- the triumphant battle against cancer, his religious awakening and the rocky path lined with the daily temptations that seem so innocent on the diamond of life -- that makes the 256 pages a winner for fans who remember his web gems or those who only know him for the travails that earned him headlines in a media frenzy reserved for pop culture icons.

256 pages, publisher: Ecco, April 2009
In major sections of the memoir, it is like watching the third base coach waving his arms frantically as Strawberry is ready to touch third base and barrel into home for the winning run. But the game isn’t during the glory years in Shea Stadium and the coach is actually a conglomeration of the demons that have delightfully played with Strawberry for years.

In actuality, it is the end of a game between angels and demons, as the latter have Strawberry dangling at the point of no return. But he takes a quick look back and sees a sliver of hope in the deep shadows that engulf the field and stays at the base, standing his ground as sunlight begins to slowly appear in the sky.

But life’s sojourn that is chronicled by Strawberry -- with John Strausbaugh -- starts in Crenshaw, California, and encompasses triumph, tragedy and redemption during the chase for a slice of the American Dream in the eye of the storm that is professional athletics.

The story begins with a chilling account of an intense confrontation between Mike (age 15), Ronnie (14) and Darryl (13) with their enraged and alcohol-fueled father, whose physical and psychological abuse of family members led the teenagers to make what could have been a tragic final stand to stop the insanity. But as Strawberry reflects back on that tumultuous day, he says that alcoholism had a major impact in the life of his father and that it is a disease -- a genetic disorder passed from generation-to-generation -- that has caused much pain and suffering in the family.

The incident is a turning point in many ways for the brothers, with Mike ultimately becoming an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, Ronnie embracing the hustle of street life and Darryl having both ends burning as an athlete and living the fast life and hard times while taking a large bite out of the nocturnal offerings in the Big Apple.

But before arriving in Major League Baseball, “Straw Dog” was a gifted young athlete in need of positive guidance from adult role models, which he received from Babe Ruth League coach John Mosely and high school baseball coach Bruce Hurst. Memorable high school games versus opposing players like John Elway made for a legend coming to life in the national media. Strawberry was drafted by the New York Mets at age 18 in 1980 and burst into the big show on May 6, 1983.

By 1986 the Mets were world champions and it appeared a dynasty was in the making, but the team was rotting away from the inside due to the wild times that was available in every city on the MLB circuit. “And in ’86, when we were the winningest team around, we became party animals,” writes Strawberry. “Drinking, drugs, fights, gambling, groupies - it all broke into the open and made scandalous headlines in the eighties.”

As the road show that was not supposed to ever end finally flamed out, Strawberry was ensnared in a web of personal and professional turmoil that was dancing to the heavy bass lines of drugs and alcohol. Strawberry does not sugarcoat the lifestyle of partying all night long and popping amphetamines to get through games. However, he does not name names unless the player has already been endlessly discussed within the public domain.

The baseball honors are impressive -- an eight-time all-star, four-time World Series champ and 1983 Rookie of the Year in the National League -- but only tell a miniscule part of the story. Strawberry hit rock bottom, looked at the shell of the man in the mirror and clawed his way back into living life with a purpose…through faith and love. And that is the greatest victory of them all.

AHP Rating: 4.0 Balls writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book story to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.