Posted on: July 22, 2009 11:16 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2009 11:17 pm

Darryl Strawberry--a Life Coach?

Recently turned on Tavis Smiley on PBS. I find his show pretty hit and miss in terms of my interest, but seeing Darryl Strawberry in the left-hand chair kept me listening.

You remember Darryl?--the Mets rookie of the year, great talent, big career numbers, and monumental drug and judgment problems. Tough to forget. I always wanted this comeback to be the one that takes. Well, to quote from his website:
Throughout the eighties and nineties, however, Strawberry faced many personal challenges, including drug use, tax evasion, solicitation, and allegations of domestic violence. His seasons with the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees were interrupted by suspensions, visits to rehab, and treatment for colon cancer. But in 2006, Strawberry's life changed course dramatically. With his wife, Tracy, he devoted himself to his church and to his work with children and adults affected by autism and other developmental disorders. I found his demeanor during Tavis's interview as impressive as his content. Here is a guy who comes across really grounded--finally. His major league days are over, but his major life accomplishments seem just to be getting in full swing. He speaks openly about the temptations of professional sports and his own emptiness. He recalls rounding the basepaths after hitting a homerun, yet feeling like a failure. The drugs, the parties, the lifestyle just were not strong enough medicine to make his pain stay away. So seeing the calm of this strongly centered guy in the left-hand chair was striking.

Now the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, funded in part by sales of his autobiography and his charity golf tournament, is his pride and joy. He and his wife, Tracy, are making a difference in the lives of autistic children and their families.

Our prayers for your continuing recovery from cancer and addiction, Darryl. Looks like you've got important stuff to do.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 15, 2009 11:09 pm
Edited on: June 16, 2009 10:20 am

Can't Go Home Again? Albert Says: 'You Gotta!'

So my daughter's magazine arrives this week from Compassion International. She says, "There's some story here about a baseball player named, 'POO-joels.'

I inform her about the particulars of "j" pronounciation options, especially when Español is involved. As a Reds fan I go back to my Hal McCoy article in the morning paper.

But a thought nags at me: what is Albert Pujols doing in a magazine like Compassion? After all that organization has strong religious roots (yes, Christian) and targets its efforts toward the world's poor and needy, especially children. Curiosity and my daughter required me to read the article (for the full story:

Here's a synopsis:

Albert Pujols and his wife Deidre travel to the Dominican Republic each year, not to vacation, but to chip away at poverty and hopelessness. The seven-time All Star and two-time NL MVP became the "mattress man" for at least 50 families one year. He and his wife hand-delivered a new mattress to homes without a decent place to sleep (the average family in that part of DR survives on $4 a day). No cameras, no reporters, but plenty of dust, heat, and sweat. They set the mattress into a previously delivered frame, then on to the next house. Compassion helped them find the neediest among the needy.

Pujols knows what poverty looks like, not only from these annual trips, but from his growing up years in nearby Santo Domingo. Raised in a poor neighborhood by his grandmother, a move to New York allowed the then sixteen-year-old to escape the gangs, the violence, and the hopelessness. But he did not escape a sense of community, a sense of responsibility for others.

The Pujols family efforts with Compassion International began where it does for thousands of others. In 2001 they started sponsoring a child. "Sponsoring" means monthly contributions (currently $38) to provide a basic diet, clean water, medical care, educational opportunities, life skills, and, true to Compassion's mission, spiritual instruction. "Sponsoring" usually means corresponding, too, so writing is more than another monthly check.

What started with one child grew to three--in the Pujols family, and in their Compassion sponsorship.

'So what? Albert makes millions!' some might respond.

But the Pujols' efforts didn't stop there. They and their foundation recently they began to pick up the tab for a medical program known as the Child Survival Program (CSP). Doctors, dentists, and ophthalmologists team up to invade the poor neighborhoods of DR one at a time.  Albert and Deidre think that's a good way to spend money. They give back, and plan to continue to do so. After all, 1,000,000 children under the age of 5 live in poverty in his homeland.

And there's more beyond that magazine article.

Albert and Deidre's oldest child Bella was born with Down Syndrome. Before making the majors, the Pujols family had to cope with the special needs brought by that disorder and a daughter they love. When financial success came along with stardom for the Cardinal firstbaseman, The Pujols Family Foundation was born. It focuses its funds and fund-raising on assisting the efforts of the Down Syndrome and helping the poor back in DR. Oh yeah, the Foundation began the year Albert got his call-up from AAA, not when he was making his millions (he was paid a $70k signing bonus and made $200k in 2001). The big money contract didn't come until 2004.

This is one family that apparently believes their life has been no accident, but one filled with divine appointments. Humble beginnings, baseball skills, opportunities to compete, a genetic malformation, a multimillion-dollar contract are all elements in a human story that has far more than self-gratification as its overriding theme. "Make a difference," sounds much more like it.

For this St. Louis Cardinal wherever he travels, he's not far from home. And he knows that place--DR or St. Louis--needs more than his investment. It needs his heart.

Hard not to cheer for that kind of player. Even if he wears a Cardinal uniform.

Some would say, especially wearing one.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:33 pm
Edited on: June 15, 2009 11:13 pm

Before Joey There Was Nick

Reds fans have been following the Joey Votto story with growing concern.

For some Joey's dizziness (may it be short-lived!) has a familiar feeling to it. Vertigo cut short the career of another promising Reds player, Nick Esasky (he had been traded to the Red Sox for Todd Benzinger before chronic dizziness ended his career at age 30 as a member of the Atlanta Braves).

The reporting on Joey's condition led me to the following update on Nick Esasky found in the Atlanta Business Chronicle (
, dated February 10, 2006, sixteen years after Nick's last MLB game. His continuing story involves taking on life's challenges after he hung up his cleates for the last time. These challenges included a drug-addicted then 19-year-old daughter and her one-year-old child, Nick's granddaughter.

"She had all the opportunities of an upper-middle-class life," he said of his daughter. "She had a mom, a dad and a home and all the things that would protect her from that problem."

Esasky is deeply motivated to help others by his own family's heartache.

His daughter experimented with drugs as a teenager and when she was 19, decided meth was her drug of choice, Esasky says. Meth sent her life spiraling out of control, as her family desperately tried to help her. A couple of years later, she gave birth to a baby girl, but continued her meth-fueled lifestyle, Esasky said.

After countless attempts to coax his daughter into rehab, Esasky decided to take more drastic measures.

"I didn't know where she was at night or who she was with and I was worried that something horrible would happen to her or my granddaughter," he said. "My first fight was to protect and save my granddaughter and my second fight was to try to help my daughter."

So Esasky went to court to get custody of the baby. He then hired a private investigator to track down his daughter, who was on the run with the 1-year-old and still heavily using meth, Esasky said. Losing custody of the child sent her on a meth binge for several weeks, but she eventually reached a turning point and finally agreed to go to rehab, Esasky said.

Coping with adversity is nothing new for Esasky, 45, who played professional baseball for nearly a decade.

His promising career ended unexpectedly early after he was diagnosed with vertigo, which made it impossible to play the game he loved. Esasky, who still suffers from the condition, has spent his days managing investments.

"You can either let it eat you up and swallow you, or you can live with it and make the most of what you've got," he said.

Esasky faces his latest challenge with that same attitude. With his daughter two months into inpatient rehab and his 16-month-old granddaughter safe in his Alpharetta home, he is ready to start a new season of his life.

After recently visiting a residential drug treatment center I was impressed with the quality of care and intervention these young adults were getting. Families were present that evening to talk about the disruption and pain brought on by their child's addictions, families not unlike the Esasky's. Big problems, but bigger solutions!

Then I noted that room was filled with middle class families who had a house to borrow against for the $50,000+ treatment. Many who needed effective help were economically cut off from quality care.

The Atlanta BizJournal story above, now three years old, ends with mention of Esasky's forming a 501(c)(3) called the K.I.M. Foundation (Kids In Meth) to fund treatment for those who cannot afford it. [Did a quick search and discovered the foundation is still active according to its filings with the State of Georgia]. Moving beyond his own turmoil both physical and in his family, Nick seeks to help other families overwhelmed.

Life after baseball--with consuming personal challenges, shared with lots of others with similar struggles.

Still dizzy, but still battling and straight-thinking. Way to go, Nick! Hope your story has a happy ending.

Yours too, Joey!

Category: MLB
Posted on: April 23, 2009 12:10 am
Edited on: April 23, 2009 12:22 am

Behind every great man . . .

It's pretty great to see Josh Hamilton do so well. [It would be absolutely great if he were still in a Reds uniform and somehow the Reds still had Volquez and Herrera, too. Okay, it's still a fantastic story]. USA Today re-told the key events in their March 14, '09 posting. Here are few of the notable paragraphs:

Hamilton is now ready for his next chapter, one in which he hopes to be part of the supporting cast on a winning team and not the center of media attention for his inspirational story.

Hamilton has repeatedly and openly told of the addictions that could have kept him from ever playing again. In countless interviews, sharing his testimony with church groups and a book released during the offseason, he has spared none of the ugly details of when his life had spiraled out of control.

The triumphant part of Hamilton's story is also well-known, including his debut in the majors with Cincinnati in 2007, eight years after he was drafted, and those 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby.

"The first couple of years were about getting back and getting settled in," Hamilton said. "Now that I'm settled in, it's about winning baseball games, doing what I can for the team."

While continuing to do what he has to do for himself to avoid any mistakes that could lead him astray. God and his family remain his main focus, and baseball is something he does.

"Our whole focus with Josh is his faith, his family and being the father and the husband he wants to be, the man he wants to be," said Johnny Narron, a Rangers coach and longtime friend who is his almost-constant companion. "His baseball talent will take care of itself. As long as he's on the field playing, he's going to perform. His tools will play."

The 27-year-old Hamilton knows that even after nearly 3+ years of sobriety and his on-field accomplishments, he is still a recovering addict.

"There's still those days," Hamilton said. "It only takes one, it only takes thinking that I can one time to end up right back where I was."

But the story behind the story is at least two-fold: a guy humble enough to get--and keep getting--help. Way to go, Josh! Then there's another guy willing to let someone else be in the spotlight while keeping the "star" on the straight and narrow the rest of the time. Let's hear it for Johnny Narron!

There's a lot credit due the Hamilton clan, too, starting with Grandma who didn't give up.

I've got to believe that this sort of personal investment is the primary way God gets His work done on this planet.

It may not take a village, but none of us is successful without the help and sacrifice of a lot of other people.

So how 'bout we pay it forward? That difference could simply be amazing even if our story never makes the news! We still can make the difference for somebody. Maybe a bunch of somebodies.

It works for Josh Hamilton. Looks like it works for Johnny Narron, too.



Category: MLB
Posted on: April 2, 2009 10:49 am

What's Right with Organized Sports--at Least Some

We just completed our fourth season of Upward Basketball and Cheerleading in our community. Volunteers from a variety of walks of life and from a variety of church affiliations, including none, work together to provide an encouraging, fun-loving, skill-developing climate for kids of all ability levels. Upward ( is one of a number of organizations that gets it right. Here's what I mean about what's right with at least this kids' sports program:

  1. Team and teamwork. "Every Child Is a Winner" is Upward's motto, but I've also seen it in the eyes of Little Leaguers and from the lips of youth soccer coaches. Sports is a vehicle for comparisons flowing from competition, but also an opportunity to reaffirm  the value and contribution of a variety of abilities. One of our teams had several gifted players who made it their goal to see a special-needs teammate score. It took every practice, several games, lots of screens, and patient passes, but the whole place erupted when their teamwork paid off. Everyone won.
  2. Sacrifice. On the court, at practice, but especially among the scores of unpaid volunteers and parents that a program like this takes, we see selfless giving. Nobody's getting paid, but they go at it year after year because of the good they want to bring to others, including their own kids. Yeah, some have their egos and alter egos out of whack, but the vast majority just want something good for kids and will support it generously.
  3. Community. People need connections. What evolves over the course of a season as parents who were strangers now sit together at practices, then root for each others' kids, and run into each other at the discount store is an important word: connection. We--whether kid or coach or parent--thrive in an encouraging environment. We need that kind of connection with others. Too often sporting events are places people complain for more than they cheer. Youth sports can be different, as Upward shows.
  4. Coaches as models, mentors, and investors. Everybody needs a coach. Teachers and coaches are often the most influential people in a kid's life. Yep, I still vote for parents and grandparents first, but that's simply not true for everyone. Upward takes seriously the kind of people we put next to kids. It shows up in the questionaire filled out by interested coach-applicants. It shows up in the training. It shows up in the commissioners who oversee coaches. Screening volunteers has to be more than preventing abuse and background checks. We need people we look up to, people who also know our name.
  5. Leadership development. Coaches and referees receive no remuneration in this league, but they do receive training, support, feedback, and opportunity. Young men and women learn to set aside their own game for what they can now do in the skills and heart of a younger sister or brother or neighbor. They find unexpected challenges and rewards, as well as other coaches who want each to succeed. We're going to need that kind of leadership in more than just sports.
  6. Spiritual development. Part of that is internal, a "winning attitude." Part of that is supernatural, at least in a church-based program like Upward. Without it we see both under-achieving defeatists and obnoxious superstars. Attention to both of these spiritual dimensions is important regardless of athletic ability [Josh Hamilton is but one great, recent example].

As a crowd was leaving our facility from the closing league program Saturday evening the universal response was, "Can't wait til next season!" The kids, the parents, the coaches, the concessionaires, the light-and-sound guys, the leadership team--all were energized. 

No millionaire coaches or players left our building. But we did see a lot of what's right with some organized sports.

Thanks to all who participate in making sports something great in the life of a kid! Great investment!







Category: General
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or