A judge spared Darryl Strawberry from prison Thursday, ordering the drug-addicted former baseball great to rehabilitation for violating probation during a four-day binge.
"You are at bat in the bottom of the ninth with two strikes against you. You are a proven winner on the field. Now you must prove you are a winner off the field," Circuit Judge Florence Foster said.
The judge agreed to Strawberry's request to go to a Phoenix House treatment program. He is to serve two years there, followed by a year of probation.
Prosecutors and Strawberry's probation officer had wanted the eight-time baseball All-Star sent to prison for 18 months.
Strawberry, wearing a dark button-down shirt, showed little emotion as he learned his fate. Earlier, he had asked the judge for leniency.
"This case is not about Darryl Strawberry, the baseball player. This is about a person who is very sick, who's been very sick for a very long time and needs a lot of help," he said. "I just thank God I'm alive today to be in front of you to deal with the situation."
Strawberry, 39, has been battling his drug addiction along with colon cancer and, most recently, depression. Psychiatrists treating him for more than a month also say there are signs of brain damage from years of cocaine use.
Five times, Strawberry has violated the terms of his release on a 1999 conviction for drug possession and solicitation of prostitution.
The judge also imposed an 18-month suspended prison sentence Thursday, meaning Strawberry could be sent to prison if he violates the terms of the ruling. He is also required to serve 100 hours of community service speaking to young people.
Dozens of supporters, including his wife, Charisse, had asked Foster not to send Strawberry to prison. They said Strawberry is a typical addict who will relapse many times before overcoming his addiction.
His doctors told the judge the one-time slugger is still battling colon cancer and has mental problems more severe than previously known. Strawberry told the judge earlier this month he wants to continue battling his "demons."
Prosecutor Darrell Dirks cited Strawberry's repeated violations in arguing against the Phoenix House, a long-term drug treatment center about 20 miles north of Ocala.
"It would be putting him right back in the same element," Dirks said.
Last year, Foster placed Strawberry on house arrest when he left the Tampa drug treatment facility where he had been living.
Strawberry had returned to the facility and stayed clean for five months when, on March 29, he disappeared with a woman who was supposed to be taking him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
He surfaced four days later in Daytona Beach, where friends picked him up and returned him to Tampa. After being treated with antidepressants, he told the judge at a hearing earlier this month he wants to continue fighting his drug addiction.