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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE | NEW YORK VS.
TEXAS REPORT : NOTES

Strawberry Ready to Undergo Surgery for Cancer Today

October 03, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

As his teammates prepared for Friday night's game against the Rangers, Yankee outfielder Darryl Strawberry checked into a New York hospital for what he called "the biggest challenge of my life." Strawberry, found to have colon cancer Thursday, will undergo surgery today for removal of a walnut-sized tumor.

"I've convinced myself I'm ready," Strawberry said Friday in a lengthy interview on ESPN. "Knowing why I'm sick has actually helped my spirits and relieved a lot of pressure. Now I can really focus on what I have to do."

Strawberry also taped a private interview for the team that was played on a big-screen television in the Yankee clubhouse just before players went onto the field for batting practice.

"He said, 'I love you guys, I know you love me, but you still have a job to do, go ahead and do this thing without me,' " Yankee reliever Mike Stanton said. "I think he's ready to get going with the surgery and get his treatment started."

Strawberry, 36, maintained his composure for almost all of the interview, tearing up only when asked about the message the entire Yankee team had delivered to him on ESPN on Thursday.

"That was nice," Strawberry's wife, Charisse, said, picking up the conversation. "All this outpouring of emotion is wonderful, but when you look at it and remember why it's there, it's sad."

Doctors believe because of the location of the tumor and Strawberry's otherwise excellent health, a full recovery is probable. And if Strawberry does overcome this obstacle, he will credit lifelong friend Eric Davis, the Oriole outfielder who overcame colon cancer in 1997, for saving his life.

"Because I knew the facts of Eric's case and what [symptoms] he experienced, that really helped me," said Strawberry, who suffered severe stomach cramps for two months before finally telling team doctors of his discomfort Monday.

"I thought I had an ulcer. . . . I was taking Maalox and antibiotics and not getting better. Then I remembered that Eric had the same symptoms. . . . If I had sat around longer, who knows what could have happened? I came to my senses and did something about it."

Strawberry, who led the Yankees with 24 home runs in only 295 at-bats this season, has 332 homers in a career that has been marked as much by off-field problems as on-field success.

He is obviously out for postseason play, no matter how far the Yankees go, and said he would be satisfied with what he has achieved as a player--and a person--if he is unable to return to the game.

"I've had some great times in baseball and love to compete, but there's no sadness in me about the game or about my faults," said Strawberry, whose past includes drug and alcohol abuse, spousal abuse and a tax-evasion conviction.

"We all have faults. Mine happened to be public. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm very happy with my family, and I know everything is going to be OK. I feel very strongly inside that this is just another hill to climb, and I'm dealing with this with joy, not sorrow."

*

The Yankees had the No. 39 stitched into their caps Friday to honor Strawberry, and some of the Rangers even inscribed it on theirs.

"It doesn't mean they want the Yankees to win," Texas Manager Johnny Oates said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the competition or the game. It's the care for another human being. . . .

"I prayed for Darryl this afternoon. I took time to pray for Darryl and his family because I know I would appreciate it if it was me. We wish that he gets well soon and the surgery is a complete success and he's back on the field again."

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