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

“I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I’m so sorry for ever leaving you guys,” Strawberry said, his voice slowing. “I’m truly, deeply sorry that I ever left you guys. I never played baseball in front of fans greater than you guys.”

Fans of the long-suffering team, which hasn’t won the World Series since Strawberry’s 1986 Mets, responded with a loud ovation, the emotional highpoint of his 16-minute speech before Saturday’s game against Arizona.

Strawberry’s No. 18 was cut into the center field grass and the home run apple was transformed into a home run strawberry. The public address system played the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Former teammates and family sat on folding chairs in the infield.

He wasn’t sure he would make it to this day. The Mets announced last August they would retire Strawberry’s number this year along with Dwight Gooden’s No. 16. Strawberry had a heart attack on March 11, a day before his 62nd birthday, and wound up in SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital in Lake St. Louis, Missouri.

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

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

“I was climbing up and I was fatigued,” he said. “Came back home for lunch and she was like, ‘OK, that’s it. We’re out of here.’ And I didn’t want to go. I told her I would be OK, and she said, ‘No, we’re going.’”

Strawberry was an eight-time All-Star, including seven during his time with the Mets from 1983-90. He hit .259 with 335 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 221 stolen bases in 17 seasons.

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

His career would have been far greater had he not fallen for the temptation of alcohol and drugs surrounding baseball stars in the nightlife of 1980s New York. He said Mookie Wilson, among the teammates on hand, and the late Gary Carter were examples he should have followed.

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

Strawberry wore a blue suit with a dark blue tie, and a strawberry shake sat 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 deal with his hometown Dodgers. He attributed the move to “a broken relationship with the front office and them saying, well, that he needs to put up a good season.”

“Well, you can’t tell that to a kid from the ghetto because that means nothing to us,” he said. “It means I will show you and that’s what I had to do in that free-agent year.”

Strawberry recalled he wore 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 that’s why he picked 18.

“There was no reason to switch, ’cause had I switched, Carter came over, he would have have took it for me anyway,” Strawberry said.

Gooden, who spoke for three minutes when his number was retired on April 14, was alongside with Strawberry, as always.

“Doc was crazier than me,” Strawberry recalled, a reference to his friend’s sobriety struggles.

Gooden‘s response to that was: “I don’t know about that. I learned from him,” he said with a chuckle.

Mets owner Steve Cohen has pushed for the team to pay more attention to its past since he bought the franchise before the 2021 season. David Wright’s No. 5 seems likely at some future time.

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

Profusely thankful for making it to this day, Strawberry said his upbringing led to his life’s struggles.

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

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

___

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb