The hood of the silver-blue Mercedes resting in the circular driveway of the new $1.2 million house in Rancho Mirage, Calif., is still warm. On this Wednesday afternoon in mid-January, Darryl Strawberry has just returned from providing a urine sample at a local hospital as part of his drug-testing agreement with Major League Baseball.
"There's a lot of sobriety out here," Strawberry says of the Coachella Valley as he offers up bottled water and stretches out on a leather sofa. The valley also has perfect desert weather, streets named after movie stars and more than 80 golf courses, 600 tennis courts and 10,000 swimming pools, one of which is just over Strawberry's left shoulder on the other side of the patio doors.
Strawberry chose this resort community as his home last May after seeking treatment for cocaine abuse. "And I don't even play golf," he says. He is living in self-imposed exile, talking about his former home cities, New York and Los Angeles, as his versions of Sodom and Gomorrah.
"It became a lifestyle for me," Strawberry says. "Drink, do coke, get women, do something freaky...all that stuff. I did it for so long. I played games when I was drunk, or just getting off a drunk or all-night partying or coming down off amphetamines.
"With alcohol and drugs it was the excitement. That's how I got addicted. It was an exciting way to escape from everything else. Coming to the major leagues at such a young age and coming to New York...maybe someplace else it would be a little different, but New York is a party place, an upbeat place.
"Man, I put up some good numbers. But I look back and wish I could've done it like I'm doing it now: clean. I just got tired of [the lifestyle] after eight, nine, 10 years. They would have never caught me because I'd done it [drugs] for so long. I grew up in a fast place, L.A."
Strawberry had provided a urine sample the previous day as well. The day before that, on Monday, Strawberry had spoken at a Martin Luther King Day rally at the El Cerrito Community Center, a few miles north of Oakland. He had talked about the importance of keeping children off drugs and alcohol, referring to them several times as "the young youth today."
"I've been through drugs and alcohol myself," he had said into the microphone. "I overcame that through the grace of God."
The cocaine he had scored less than 48 hours earlier, on Saturday night, lingered in his system as he spoke at the rally. More fatefully, it was in the urine samples he provided on Tuesday and Wednesday. He didn't realize, as he sprawled across his couch, telling a reporter he was clean, that he'd been caught.
It begins with one beer, the way an inferno starts with a spark or the way a massive freeway pileup begins with one car. Dwight Gooden's pattern of self-destruction continues when he orders another beer and then another. On this night, in June 1994, the lights and the music and mostly the alcohol at the Manhattan nightclub are soothing him.