Darryl Strawberry was an eight-time MLB All-Star and four-time World Series champion over a decorated career that spanned 17 seasons. The 1983 Rookie of the Year is also well known for his off-the-field escapades however, which included numerous run-ins with the law and an 11-month prison sentence that ended in April 2003. Today, he no longer follows MLB but remains passionate about promoting the sport in America's inner-cities. His new documentary, "Harvard Park," of which he is an executive producer, is set to debut Sunday, April 15 at 11a.m. PT/ET on BET. It chronicles much of his youth along with fellow MLB All-Star and childhood friend Eric Davis in South Central Los Angeles while profiling how a small park in a high-crime neighborhood became a prized venue for future stars of the game.
Strawberry recently caught up with The Huffington Post to discuss the film and some of his qualms with MLB as a whole.
Talk about "Harvard Park" and how the project began.
We have had it at heart for a long time. I mean, we didn't have the idea that it would actually turn into a film, but when you look at what Harvard Park really meant to me and Eric, and really meant to the community of Los Angeles area South Central and African-American kids growing up, it just brought a lot of hope and inspiration. Us being there every day like we were getting ready and getting in shape -- most people would say, "Why, why would they be there? They're Major League Baseball players with a million dollars." It was because it was not about us; it was about everything that was around there. The hope that she brings alive, that you made it but you don’t leave. You want them to know that this is where you came from and that this is home; this is real home. I never got too big for real home, never said: "Hey, look at me, I live up in the hills somewhere."
How long has this park been a part of you?
That's why we were there from the beginning until the end of our careers. That was the real giving back, because it was in the neighborhood where you grew up in with people still struggling. You had gangs, drugs, women and men lost, you had everything. People would come by the park to see me and Eric and this program. At the same time, we were baseball players, so we were an inspiration and more like counselors to the normal people of everyday life. It meant so much to us. It's a very unique story because it's never been done. When you look at the film and see all the guys that came, all the MLB players and guys striving to make it.
Who are some of the favorites as the new baseball season gets underway?
I'm not trying to be rude about that but in all honesty, I don’t even follow baseball anymore. I'm a fan of players I've seen over the years. I still have friends that play but only on the Yankees, like [Derek Jeter] and [Mariano Rivera], but those are the only guys left from my playing days. It's a game that I've always loved and will always be dear to me.
Talk about your relationship with Eric Davis and how it has prospered over the years.
We grew up together. Eric was the leadoff batter and shortshop. We played out in Compton. We played against each other at different parks in little league. We came together in high school and played summer ball together. We were on a team called the Compton Moose; here we were hitting the ball out of the park that people couldn’t believe.
What is the biggest challenge for inner-city youth right now trying to play baseball?
In all honesty, inner-city baseball has been overlooked. Let's be real about it: the communities have been overlooked. There has not been anyone that has stepped up and said, "Hey, let's build these programs up." Let MLB put its stamp on it and put the money together to get these inner-city leagues back up for African American players to get back in the game of baseball. They have done it in the Dominican and Puerto Rico; they have academies for their kids, but they don't have it here. That's been the difference. I'm not taking anything away from any culture, but here it is; we haven’t developed it here, and it's sad. We lost all the African-American kids to basketball. I have two sons that play basketball. Baseball is not attractive to these kids anymore, and basketball is. Why? Because basketball has done their work, marketing its players, the great ones: Kobe Bryant, [Carmelo Anthony], [LeBron James], and Dwyane Wade, and the kids have followed that.
Essentially, this is far from a quick solution then that will require great effort.
It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to fix it. Baseball should be looked upon like this: All the players with color are in the big leagues because of Jackie Robinson, and most of them don't even know that. They think they deserve to be in the big leagues; they have no idea who paid the price for all of us to put on a MLB uniform and be proud of wearing it. It's because of Jackie Robinson and what he meant to the game and how he broke the color barrier -- for every color to be in the big leagues and play. A guy like me is grateful; I would have never worn a uniform if it wasn’t for him; none of us would. They think their wearing it because, "look at what I've done." No, it's not what you've done; it's what Jackie has done.
Is the history of the game lost then?
Yes; no question the history has been totally lost. It has been totally built on high agents controlling the operations of teams in terms of what their players will and won't do. The money that's given away to them has made a lot of the players not understand the real principles and the history of baseball. "Look at me, I'm Hollywood now." Baseball's not Hollywood; baseball is a game of being baseball.
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