Darryl Strawberry, Gary Sheffield among ex-MLB stars in Mets’ more open orbit

PORT ST. LUCIE — At 61 years old, Darryl Strawberry looks like he could still bang a few homers in batting practice, and perhaps even the game itself.

More than a few players, coaches and reporters suggested on the field at Clover Park Tuesday morning that Strawberry do just that, but he laughed it off. His hitting days are long over. But the Mets icon has as meaningful a presence around here as he has in years, thanks to a burgeoning relationship with Alex and Steve Cohen.

Both Strawberry and another former star, Gary Sheffield, have been getting to know the Cohens, according to people around the team -- and both players feel respected by the owners’ interest in learning about the game from people who played it.

Neither Sheffield nor Strawberry has a formal role with the team. Sheffield — a Met in 2009, a nephew of Dwight Gooden, and a sharp baseball mind — is not in camp. Strawberry is here for a few days as a guest instructor at the request of manager Carlos Mendoza, and makes scattered appearances for the team, but is not a club employee.

Baseball operations hires are the purview of president of baseball operations David Stearns, and Cohen does not plan to force anyone on him. But just as the owners bonded initially with current players like Francisco Lindor, they have shown an interest in engaging with Mets and baseball history.

Both Strawberry and Sheffield are among those who have been included in that orbit by enjoying time and baseball talk with the Cohens. And they are hardly alone.

One glance at the field during Tuesday’s batting practice told the story of an environment welcoming to stars of the past: Carlos Beltran was in uniform doing meaningful work with players, which he will continue throughout the year in his job supporting both Stearns and Mendoza.

Beltran and Strawberry posed for pictures together, then warmly greeted Daniel Murphy, back in Metsland as an analyst on SNY’s game broadcast (Terry Collins, the longest-tenured manager in franchise history, should have been among those in uniform, but folks around here are starting to become aware of that oversight in need of fixing).

Sitting in the dugout a few minutes after, Strawberry took notice of the respect shown to Mets of the past. He also had kind words for Stearns, whose long-term approach reminds him of the great Mets GM of his era, Frank Cashen.

“He’s doing exactly what Frank did,” Strawberry said. “He’s doing a good job because he’s looking at the future of the New York Mets. He’s looking at the talent, and he’s looking at the current team right now. What the needs are. Which is good. Just because the owner has a lot of money, but he’s not throwing it away. If you’re going to invest it, invest it in the younger players. And I think that’s what Frank really did.”

Strawberry will be at Citi Field on June 1, when the Mets retire his uniform No. 18. How much more time does he plan to spend at the ballpark this year?

“I hope to come around more, since I got a chance to meet David,” Strawberry said. “He’s a really very unique person. He’s got his work cut out for him. I don’t want to come around and interfere with anything when you know you have a new president and you've got a new thing going, you really want to let them just be able to do what they need to do. He’s got a lot to do. He’s got a lot on his plate …. I just know that he is very smart. He has a great baseball IQ.”