Dukes welcomes "fresh start" with Nats
Former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes, speaking publicly for the first time since the club traded their touted turned troubled prospect to the Nationals in December, stayed on message in saying he welcomed a "fresh start" with his new club.
Dukes said he was part disappointed, part excited when he found out with he was getting dealt, but said the Rays "gave me my chances" to succeed, offering him enough support - "It was a shame it didn't work out.
"I never want to leave a job with a negative behind," Dukes said. "You always want to leave on a good note, and I didn't get that chance....and to show them what they drafted, that they drafted someone who can produce and do things the right way."
Dukes had been the subject of controversy, and headlines, since last summer when news broke over a series of the Tampa native’s personal and off-field issues. A Times story May 23rd included allegations from his estranged wife that he had threatened her life, as well as the lives of the couple’s children. There were also several claims of paternity levied against Dukes, including one from a foster child who was 17 and living in his grandmother's house; and a threat against a reporter.
"I was a real hard headed guy," Dukes said. "It was at times hard for me to listen. I needed to be able to admit that I do things wrong and it's ok to do things wrong, but to make good after that."
Dukes said he came to that conclusion this past offseason, when he spent a lot of time trying to "find myself." He was pleased with the support from the Nats organization, guidance and support from Dmitri Young and a club employee, James Williams, who accompanies Dukes every day and is someone the 23-year-old outfielder calls a "father figure."
Nats GM Jim Bowden said the club hasn't imposed a "no tolerance policy" akin to the one given to Dmitri Young last year, but that the Nats have a plan in place for Dukes - on and off the field - and he is, so far, passing the test. "He's done everything we've asked him to do," Bowden said. "We have absolutely no complaints."
When asked whether this is his last chance in baseball, Dukes paused.
“I always leave that up to God,” he said, “but as far as getting it together and knowing that I have to get it together? Yes, I know I have to get it together now. But I never count myself out.”
Dukes showed up at the Nationals facility around 2:30 p.m. after most of the other Nats had left, toting his 3-year old son, Elijah Jr, who was sporting a red Nationals hat. After a brief tour of the clubhouse, he met with more than a dozen media members and covered many issues in an introspective, 20-minute chat.
Dukes didn't address any part of his legal problems or situations, only saying, "Don't believe everything you hear."
"I have tests in my life every day, trying to raise my son and stuff like that," Dukes said. "I had my issues, but I overcame them without being on the front page or behind bars or something. So, obviously I kind of dealt with my things the right way."
Dukes, a former Hillsborough High star, said it probably wasn't a good combination to be playing in his hometown, where some issues were exacerbated - and put on the front page.
"I think being young and being at home is just not a good thing for someone who probably isn't mature enough to handle those type of situations. Leaving the ballpark and going home everybody loves you. But you gotta know how to deal and cope when those type of issues that go along with it - being at home and playing baseball."
Dukes agreed with Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who told the Times on Tuesday that he didn't think the "maturing part would have happened here," for Dukes and Delmon Young. Crawford said that Dukes and Young had "too much free range to do whatever they wanted to do."
"You're gonna need that veteran guy there sometimes to be able to stick it to you hard," Dukes said. " And we didn't really have that many older guys that been through too much to experience things with. (But) not all people need that type of thing, so its not expected.”
Before Dukes left, he offered one more - if not his last - promise, "From now on, everyone will get a chance to see the real Elijah Dukes."
-- JOE SMITH