By RONALD BLUMAP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Darryl Strawberry stood on the Citi Field grass as his No. 18 was retired and addressed the New York Mets fans he had abandoned 34 years earlier.

“I say this from the bottom of my heart, I’m so sorry I left you,” Strawberry told the crowd of 30,600, lowering his voice. “I am very sorry for leaving you. “I never played baseball in front of fans bigger than you.”

Fans of the long-suffering team, which has not won the World Series since Strawberry’s Mets in 1986, responded with a loud applause, the emotional highlight of his 16-minute speech before Saturday’s 10-5 loss to Arizona.

Strawberry’s number 18 was cut into the center field grass and the home run apple was transformed into a home run strawberry. “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles played over the public address system. Former teammates and family members sat on folding chairs on the infield.

I wasn’t sure I could make it to this day. The Mets announced last August that they would retire Strawberry’s number this year along with Dwight Gooden’s No. 16. Strawberry suffered a heart attack on March 11, one day before his 62nd birthday, and ended up at SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital in Lake St. Luis, Missouri.

“When I came out of surgery, my heart was at 32%,” he said.

Strawberry, who traveled as a minister for more than half of each year, credited his wife Tracy for taking him to the hospital and saving his life.

“I was going up and I was fatigued,” he said. “I came home for lunch and she said, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ We’re leaving here. And I didn’t want to go. I told her it would be fine and she said, ‘No, we’re leaving.'”

Strawberry was an eight-time All-Star, including seven during his time with the Mets from 1983 to 1990. He hit .259 with 335 home runs, 1,000 RBI and 221 stolen bases in 17 seasons.

Selected first overall by the Mets in the 1980 amateur draft, he failed to find a consistent home after his departure from Shea Stadium. He played three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one with San Francisco and five with the New York Yankees.

His career would have been much better if he had not fallen into the temptation of alcohol and drugs that surrounded baseball stars in the New York nightlife of the 1980s. He said that Mookie Wilson, among the teammates present, and the late Gary Carter were examples I should have followed.

“I wanted to be what they were, not just a guy who played baseball and put on the uniform,” Strawberry said during a news conference before the ceremony. “I wanted to be that kind of man. I just didn’t have the guts to do what they were doing at the time they were doing it, and that means a lot to me because they were drinking milk and I was drinking alcohol.”

Strawberry was wearing a blue suit with a dark blue tie and a strawberry milkshake was in front of him as part of a promotion. He addressed his decision to leave the Mets after the 1990 season and sign a five-year contract with his hometown Dodgers. He attributed the move to “a broken relationship with the board and they said, well, he needs to have a good season.”

“Well, you can’t say that to a ghetto kid because that doesn’t mean anything to us,” he said. “It means I’m going to show them and that’s what I had to do in that free agent year.”

Strawberry recalled wearing No. 8 in high school, but it was unavailable when he arrived in New York in 1983 because of Ronn Reynolds. Strawberry wanted to keep an 8, so he chose 18.

“There was no reason to change, because if it had changed, Carter had come, I would have accepted it anyway,” Strawberry said.

“Doc was crazier than I was,” Strawberry recalled, referring to his friend’s sobriety issues.

Gooden’s response was: “I don’t know anything about that. I learned from him,” she said with a laugh.

Mets owner Steve Cohen has pushed for the team to pay more attention to its past since purchasing the franchise before the 2021 season. David Wright’s No. 5 appears likely at some point in the future.

“It’s a reminder of those moments in Mets history and the people involved that give you a kind of hope that the future is possible,” Cohen said.

Profusely grateful to have made it to this day, Strawberry said his upbringing led him to the struggles of his life.

“Coming from a broken situation kept me broken inside as a person, and I was never able to achieve the happiness of what I was doing for myself when I was successful,” he said. “I came from a dysfunctional home and my father was a heavy alcoholic and he said I would never amount to anything.”

“I don’t regret what happened to me because it made me the man I am today and I’m grateful for every challenge I had to face and every circumstance I had to go through,” he added, “because it just made me keep going to try to to be a better man than my father, and I think I achieved it. “I think I conquered it.”

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