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Nats put up Dukes for good deed


Nats put up Dukes for good deed
By JOE HENDERSON

jhenderson@tampatrib.com

You couldn't make something like this up.

Elijah Dukes got in trouble Saturday because he tried to help a Little League organization kick off its season in a small town just outside Washington, D.C. The opening ceremony ran long and Elijah, an outfielder for the Washington Nationals, was about five minutes late reporting to the clubhouse for that day's game.

He was fined $500 and benched.

Now, that same Little League has vowed to raise money to pay the fine because, as the league president said Tuesday in a phone conversation, "We're the ones who put him in this position so I felt we should be the ones to pay it."

The speaker was James Mraz, charged with overseeing the local Little League in Great Falls, Va., a town of about 20,000. The Elijah Dukes he knows is far different from the one who made headline news here in Tampa in the summer of 2007.

Dukes was involved in a nasty divorce case. Restraining orders were filed. Threats were made.

He once famously left the message "you dead, dog," on his estranged wife's cell phone. The Tampa Bay Rays basically gave him away to the Nationals just to get him out of town. We

haven't heard much about him here since, save for occasional Baseball news or court hearings.

Didn't know him

Mraz didn't know much about Dukes either, beyond the fact he plays for the Nationals. Only after The Washington Post reported the story on Tuesday did Mraz begin to hear some details of Dukes' problems here.

Would he have invited Dukes had he known some of those stories beforehand?

"That's a fair question. I don't know what I would have done," he said. "But the guy I saw out there was giving Baseball a good shot in the arm.

"Maybe he has a checkered past but he is trying to get his life straight. He seemed happy to be here and doing that."

Dukes was a last-minute addition to the ceremony. They needed a speaker and one of the guys on the board of directors said he might be able to get Elijah Dukes to come. Mraz said sure, go ahead.

That's where the problem started. Nationals manager Manny Acta, who ordered the fine, said that if only Elijah had set up the appearance through the team, this all could have been avoided.

"I think someone would have advised him not to do something like that before a day game," Acta told the Post.

In other words, the controversy would have been avoided because the club wouldn't have allowed Dukes to appear.

As it was, Dukes arrived in Great Falls at 8:50 a.m. and stayed around as all 54 teams paraded by. He gave high-fives as each of the 500 or so players walked past before giving brief remarks to the crowd.

"I like what y'all are doing out here," the Post quoted Dukes as saying. "It's not life or death. It's always about having fun."

Enjoyed his appearance

He had to run at that point. He was due in the Nationals' clubhouse at 10 a.m. and it was already past 9:30. The ballpark was at least a half-hour away.

"He really seemed to enjoy being here," Mraz said.

Dukes was supposed to be paid $500 for appearing but Mraz said he doesn't know if he took the fee yet.

Mraz's phone has been ringing steadily. His e-mail box is filling, both with offers to contribute to the fine fund and stories detailing Dukes' past transgressions in Tampa. Anything raised over the fine amount will go to a Southeast D.C. Little League in the name of Elijah Dukes.

Dukes hasn't said anything about this since the story broke, nor has Mraz spoken with him. But he knows what he'd tell Dukes if he could.

"I'd just say, 'Good things happen to good people, my friend,'" he said. "The guy was trying to do something nice."

Photo: Former Rays player Elijah Dukes was benched and fined for showing up late.

Photo: Elijah Dukes

Fined after returning late from youth event

Copyright ? 2009, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 23, 2009

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