Originally created 07/17/02

The son also rises



Being the son of a famous baseball player should be easy.

It should mean trips to the ballpark clubhouse, fancy houses and cars, positive recognition.

It should not, however, entail having to watch comedians bury your father under an avalanche of cruel jokes. It should not be your identity.

For Darryl Strawberry Jr., though, that's exactly what it's become.

Once upon a time, Darryl Strawberry Sr. was a hero. During his 17 years as a Major League Baseball player, Strawberry, with his looping left-handed swing, hit 227 home runs.

Now, the elder Strawberry is a running joke. He's been caught with drugs, has run away from treatment facilities and is serving an 18-month jail sentence for violating his probation.

The fame of Darryl Strawberry Sr. has become the misfortune of Darryl Strawberry Jr.

"Sometimes all that stuff bothers me," said Strawberry, who's in town this week for the Peach Jam. "But I'm used to it by now. He is not me. I can't do anything about what he's done. That's his life."

Meanwhile, Darryl Jr., is trying to create one of his own by playing basketball for California Team Select. And trying to be patient with people who want to know just one thing: What's it like to be Darryl Strawberry's son?

"I think he deals with it well," said California Team Select coach Thad McGraw. "But I know it bothers him. He's an individual. He wants to be recognized as someone else."

So far in this week's tournament, he's done a good job of stepping away from the immense shadow of his father.

In five games for Team California, Strawberry, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound guard, has averaged 13.6 points and 2.8 assists per game to help lead his team to a 2-3 record.

But in the back of his mind, Strawberry is aware that people are likely to look past his play-making ability and focus instead on his DNA.

"I don't even think about that," said Strawberry, who last saw his dad two years ago. "I just go out and play my game. People know who I am, but that doesn't matter to me."

So, Strawberry's solution is easy: avoid the distractions by flying high on the court.

And for the rising senior at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., he's done a better job of that this summer.

In his second season playing for Team California, Strawberry - who already was strong defensively - has improved his ball-handling skills, has been more aggressive and has begun playing with confidence.

Plus, Strawberry has found solace in a bond with Patrick Ewing Jr. - also the junior to a famous and infamous senior - at last week's Nike All-American camp in Indianapolis.

To Strawberry, it's helped to know someone in a similar situation - even if it goes unsaid when the two of them get together.

"We really don't get into stuff about our dads," said Strawberry, who said he's interested in playing college ball at Pepperdine, California and Oregon. "We talked more about basketball and other kid stuff. We don't care about what people say about our dads."

For now, all that interests Strawberry is what people say about his on-court skills.

He gave them a good show Tuesday morning. Although Team California suffered a 67-64 defeat against Louisiana Select, Strawberry, at times, was brilliant.

Knocking down 3-pointers, hitting baseline reverse layups and stealing in-bounds passes, Strawberry almost led his team to a huge comeback win after it fell behind 37-13 early in the game.

But was it enough to make spectators forget about his father's misdeeds? Probably not. That'll likely be a battle Strawberry always will have to fight.

"He can handle it," teammate Trevor Arriza said. "He's been handling it his whole life."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com.