Wise Strawberry has advice for Ike
Mets' past understands what lies aheads for Mets' future
NEW YORK -- Chances are good that their paths will cross some time in February or March in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The strapping young left-handed slugger will be introduced to a former player who could have been characterized with the same words 27 years earlier. "Ike Davis, meet Darryl Strawberry" or words to that effect. Or the intro could go like this: "Mets' future, meet the Mets' past."
It may be a tad presumptuous at this point to identify Issac B. Davis as the Mets' future. He is 22 years old and has yet to see a pitch in Triple-A. So who can say? Moreover, the direction of his future leads to New York, the big bad city that has been known to eat its young at times.
At this point, though, Davis is undeniably on the Mets' horizon, tentatively scheduled to take his first shots at Citi Field's Mo Zone at some point in 2011 or perhaps in September. For the first time since Strawberry flexed his considerable muscle at Shea Stadium in May 1983, the Mets have a homegrown piece of the rarest commodity in the game, genuine left-handed power. And as unfair as the then-now player-to-player comparisons are to the younger comparative, a link connecting young Davis to the now 47-year-old slugger-survivor is certain to develop.
"It will," said Strawberry. He once was described as the black Ted Williams.
Strawberry knows of the first baseman, the son of former Yankees and Twins reliever Ron Davis. He has heard of his power and his promise. Strawberry recalls how people gushed about him with similar "ooh and aah" phrasing in the early '80s. "People always like power," he said.
And the Strawman knows he blazed a three-year path from amateur to Draft selection in 1980 to Minor League force to big league plebe in '83 that, because of talent and need at the big league level, Davis may be asked to follow. And prompted by that possibility, Strawberry offers a heartfelt "Be careful."
Strawberry's words of caution are directed at the Mets and Davis as well. He doesn't know enough about Davis to venture a guess about his preparedness. "But he probably is more ready than I was," he said. Davis has three years of college and a father involved in his life. Strawberry had neither, and lived a mostly underprivileged life until he signed with the Mets. He was 21 when he saw his first big league pitch. Davis will be at least 23.
"But no matter where you came from or what you've experienced, you're probably not ready for what's coming," Strawberry said. Whether it's left-handed pitching or other obstacles, forces and distractions. "There's a lot of stuff that can get in your way," Strawberry added.
Memories and some of the scars created by the obstacles remain with Strawberry. They have made him a better man now, he said. If he only knew then -- when he had that mighty swing, all that speed and that arm -- what he knows now, he might have fulfilled more of his promise. Then-general manager Joe McIlvaine once said, "He could hit 50 and steal 50." Thank goodness no one has attached that weight to Davis.
"You have to learn to deal with the expectations and the responsibility," Strawberry said. "I learned after some of my skills were gone. Now, I'm a little wiser."
No one has asked that he impart whatever wisdom he has developed to Davis. But Strawberry assumes he'll meet the future in Spring Training. And he's ready for that. His words will mirror those spoken by another New York slugger in the final weeks of his life. "Don't do what I did," Mickey Mantle told his audiences.
"I'd have the same warning," Strawberry said. "I tell any young player in New York or anywhere, 'Look to the other side of town, to the guy playing shortstop with the Yankees. See how he does it. Look at Derek Jeter, his character. That's class.'
"I can tell them what I did, but that's telling 'em what you shouldn't do. I think it's better to show them something positive and Derek ... he's an example of what you should be. Not many have excelled like he has and achieved what he's done. And you never hear or read about him doing anything wrong.
"David [Wright] is the same way. He stays out of it and deals with all the pressure without getting himself in trouble. David had to deal with some tough times last year. He had to make adjustments. It's not easy the first time you don't have the success you're used to."
That experience comes to every player. Strawberry, Wright, Mantle, Willie Mays. Tim Lincecum might not win the National League Cy Young Award next year.
"You have to know how to handle it. Everyone needs some guidance," Strawberry said. "I had Jimmy Frey [a Mets coach in 1983]. He helped me prepare, and he helped deal with it. I remember the last day of my rookie season, Jimmy said, 'OK kid, I don't think I'll be around next year. But you've got your foot in the door.' He helped me a lot. And I like helping guys now ... if I can do the same thing for them.
"If he wants ... if the Mets want, I'll be there for Mr. Davis."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.