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Darryl Strawberry chases new calling by opening latest drug rehab centre

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ST. CLOUD, Fla. - Darryl Strawberry will always be tied to his former baseball exploits.

He's now trying to help others avoid the pitfalls that plagued his career with opening of his second drug rehab facility in two years.

Strawberry and his wife Tracy — both ordained ministers — were in central Florida Friday for the opening of their second drug rehabilitation and treatment centre. The Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center will be focused on helping former athletes and others deal with the issues that once followed them both, as well as the new ones — like concussions — that face today's generation of athletes.

"I think the legacy we all want to leave is a positive one," said Strawberry, who's been clean more than a decade. "Baseball don't leave you a positive legacy. That's just a game and that comes and goes. But I think the most important thing is for people to see they're not a mistake."

The new centre joins one already open in Texas, and the couple plans to open a third facility close to where they reside in St. Louis later this year.

It offers a 28-day residential treatment program that can treat up to 60 patients at a time for addiction and substance abuse. It also has a program to help athletes address post-playing issues, as well as anyone suffering long-term effects concussions and traumatic brain injury.

During Strawberry's journey to sobriety he was once told by a treating doctor that he would never make it out of his addiction. He said he wants these new facilities to be a place where patients never hear anything similar.

"Drug addiction is an illness and those that don't know that have a tendency to criticize and point fingers. I was one guy they pointed fingers at and said 'This guy is a cocaine freak,' you know?" he said. "They didn't know the depths of it. Today is a sign to show you that this is about recovery."

Tracy Strawberry met Darryl nearly 15 years ago at a narcotics rehab convention in Tampa. Both twice divorced, they began dating while both continued to fight their addictions.

Getting past their various hurdles they eventually moved to Missouri, and they were married in 2006.

Not long after that they started their non-denominational ministry, which Tracy said is the core of the curriculum she helped write for the clinic.

But she said it doesn't jam the religious component down patient's throats.

"You can't be so supernatural that you're not natural," she said.

Dr. William Leach, a board certified addiction specialist, is the medical director of the new facility. He said a facility such as this is in a position to approach addiction in ways not previously done at this level.

"In 55 years of brain research, we finally figured out that addiction is a biologically-mediated structural brain disease," Leach said. "And we finally figured out to create medicines at least at the start that are going to help with that."

Strawberry was joined Friday by several former athletes from the MLB and NFL, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood. Youngblood is on the NFL Players Association concussion committee, and was there specifically to continue to raise awareness about concussion treatment.

Youngblood said the potential impact the facility could have is enormous.

"We've been looking concussion issues for the past four or five years and we finally found somebody to partner with," he said. "Once you open the door I believe you're gonna be flooded with those who are suffering from those issues."

Strawberry said he's only just beginning his journey to help others.

"My own path is experience, and you never give up on a person," Strawberry said. "You never know who will make it with the chance and opportunity."

___

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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