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COMMENTARY

Friends Strawberry, Davis Even Share Same Cancer

October 04, 1998|MIKE LUPICA | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

There was a day once when Eric Davis, with the Tigers then, sat in the visitors' dugout at Yankee Stadium and talked about Darryl Strawberry. This was a time when Strawberry had tested positive for drugs and was in rehab instead of baseball. So Davis talked about growing up in south-central Los Angeles with Strawberry, and playing against him in Little League, how they both became gifted young stars in the big leagues, Strawberry with the Mets, Davis with the Reds. On this day, a cold April Saturday in New York, Davis spoke of talent and promise, childhood and friendship and dreams.

"Me and Darryl," Davis said, "we just knew we were going to have everything." It turns out they were right.

Davis, with the Orioles now, was diagnosed with colon cancer last summer. Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer Thursday. He went to Columbia-Presbyterian and underwent more tests, heard the same words from the doctors that Davis heard at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in June 1997. Really, there was just the one word: cancer. Everything after that is just noise.

The original shadow across Strawberry's test results now becomes a shadow across the Yankee season.

"I've worked hard to be a better person," Strawberry said on Wednesday before he left Yankee Stadium. "Real hard. I've worked on my heart, my mind, my spirit."

He grinned, shook his head.

"Now I sure hope nothing's wrong with my body," he said.

There is something wrong inside his body, a 6-6 body built for all sports, but baseball especially. The Lord made Darryl Strawberry big and strong and fast, gave him eyes to see the spin on a pitched ball and the skill to do something with it, even gave him a name that had to go with a big sports star. He came out of Crenshaw High in L.A. with a home-run swing that could make a ballpark come to a stop. The same kind of swing that Davis had from the time they were kids.

They were going to have everything. Strawberry has always called Davis "my brother." It turns out now there is cancer in the family. Davis found out in Southern California, early Thursday afternoon. Strawberry was home by then with his wife, Charisse, who has done so much to help him turn his life around, and his baseball career. Davis picked up the phone right away and called. For these last few years, Strawberry has said that his faith in God makes him strong. But now that he has cancer, he can draw faith from Eric Davis too.

Davis underwent chemotherapy last season and still managed to make it back to the Orioles, make it to the playoffs with them. This year he came back and had such a splendid season that he surely will be named Comeback Player of the Year. He reminded everyone of the player he once was, when he was young, and they compared him with Willie Mays.

He has always been there for Strawberry, from south-central on. He was there Thursday, strong and positive and cancer-free.

"I told him it was nothing he did," Eric Davis said. "I told him that it's nothing that anyone can control. I couldn't. He can't. I told him not to think, Why me? That's just a waste of time. He's got to face it, accept it, deal with it. The next step isn't feeling sorry for yourself, it's getting this thing out of your body."

Davis was asked to talk about this happening to Strawberry, one year after cancer visited his own life. With the same symptoms, same location, same mass.

"It's something I can't understand, and neither can he," Davis said. "It's something so weird I can't even start to explain it or understand it. If I think on it too hard, I want to beat my head against the wall."

He was asked if the very first day, when they sit you in the room and tell you it is cancer, is the worst day.

"No," he said. "I told Darryl Thursday, 'This is the day you should feel relieved, because now you know.' That's the way I felt when my doctors told me. I just wanted to know what it was. It's always worse not knowing."

You could hear another phone ringing. Darryl Strawberry had cancer and the news was out and everyone wanted to talk to Eric Davis now.

"I found out, and two or three days later I was having surgery, and then I was thinking about getting better," Davis said. "You know who my heart goes out to? To the people who have cancer and know there's nothing the doctors can do about it. Or the people who try everything, try all the cures and then finally have surgery as a last resort. I lived with cancer for a couple of days before they operated on me. What about people who feel as if they've lived with it forever?"

There was a pause, and then Davis quietly said, "Darryl has always been strong."

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