Former baseball star Darryl Strawberry gets 18 months in prison for probation violation

Monday, April 29th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Former baseball slugger Darryl Strawberry was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday for violating probation on a 1999 conviction for drug and solicitation of prostitution charges.

Dressed in an orange jail-issued uniform, Strawberry said he hoped to put his off-the-field struggles in the past. He had been held at the Hillsborough County Jail since March awaiting sentencing.

``I would just like to get this behind me. I would like to do my 18 months and move on,'' Strawberry said. ``My life is going in the right direction. I don't want to have this over my head.''

Strawberry, 40, had been sent to drug treatment instead of prison, but he violated probation six times. The latest violation involved breaking the rules of the drug treatment center by smoking, having sex with a female resident and trading baseballs for cigarettes.

Retired Judge Ralph Steinberg told Strawberry Monday that he hoped Strawberry was sincere, ``for your sake and the sake of your friends and relatives and the community at large.'' Steinberg said he hopes Strawberry someday returns to baseball, prompting a slight smile from the former slugger.

Last year, Judge Florence Foster suspended an 18-month prison sentence for Strawberry provided he complete the program at the Ocala-area drug treatment center.

Prosecutors had urged Foster to send Strawberry to prison after he violated house arrest at another treatment center by escaping on a cross-state drug binge. However, Strawberry's attorney said the former all-star needed medical care and mental health services not available in Florida prisons.

Strawberry was on World Series championship teams with the New York Mets in 1986 and the New York Yankees in 1996 and 1999. Along with his legal problems, he has been treated for colon and stomach cancer. He has not used drugs for more than a year, his attorney said.

Darrel Dirks, assistant state attorney, said he was pleased Strawberry was taking responsibility for his actions.

``If he wants to get this behind him, we think it's wonderful. We are taking Mr. Strawberry's word,'' Dirks said.

Strawberry's wife, Charisse, was seated in the courtroom but declined comment following the sentencing.

Ron Dock, a New York Yankees counselor who has worked with Strawberry, said his friend is ``at peace. He is relieved.''

``I'm very proud of that man,'' Dock said. ``He's not that little boy he was a few months ago. He's a man today.''

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