TAMPA — Former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes returns to Tropicana Field tonight for the first time in nearly two years, when the then-rookie was placed on the inactive list amid swirling legal and personal struggles that had consumed the Rays' 2007 season. The distractions eventually led to the team trading him that offseason.
The next season, the Rays won the AL pennant.
And even though he arrives in a different uniform, as a member of the Washington Nationals, he comes back still trying to fulfill the promise he had as one of the Tampa Bay area's top prospects.
He also is still trying to get his life in order.
Lots of children
According to court documents, Dukes, 24, owes or is paying child support to three women. A fourth has filed suit seeking reinstatement of payments. And last month, a fifth woman filed suit, claiming Dukes is the father of her baby. All of the women live in the bay area.
In all, according to records, Dukes has been proved to have six children with four different women, and a pending paternity case involves a possible seventh child with a fifth woman. The former Hillsborough High standout remains married to Nishea Gilbert, but she has opened divorce proceedings for the second time.
Court records show Dukes owes Carla Bryant, the mother of his 5-year-old daughter, $37,299 of child support. He owes Porcia Reneal Daniels, the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, $9,732 of child support. He was ordered to pay monthly child support to his estranged wife, Gilbert, with whom Dukes has three children.
Shantell Mitchell has an August court date seeking the resumption of child support for her 5-year-old son. Two years ago, Dukes and Mitchell agreed to share custody of the child. But Mitchell went back to court in December seeking to have child support payments reinstituted.
And just last month, Shana Elisa Marbra, 23, filed a lawsuit claiming Dukes is the father of her 1-year-old son.
The Nationals declined to make Dukes available for comment.
On the field, Dukes, a third-round pick in 2002, has shown flashes of brilliance. But a rash of injuries have limited his success.
Since he was traded on Dec. 3, 2007, he has missed 89 games due to injury. He had three stints on the disabled list last season with hamstring and calf injuries and recently returned after missing 14 games with a hamstring pull.
In 175 games (just more than one season) over three seasons, he has hit 29 homers with 92 RBIs. This season, he is hitting .262 with six homers and 27 RBIs.
The player the Rays received for Dukes, left-handed pitcher Glenn Gibson, struggled to live up to the promise the Nationals had for him as one of their top prospects. A fourth-round pick, Gibson struggled last season, compiling a 7.27 ERA for Class A Columbus (4-8, 7.44) and short-season Class A Hudson Valley (0-0, 6.65).
Gibson, who was named Washington's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America in 2007, is currently in extended spring training for the Rays.
'He still needs help'
The turmoil between Dukes and his wife became public in 2007 and included allegations that Dukes threatened to kill Gilbert and their two children via an expletive-laced phone message and a cell phone photo of a gun.
Dukes also got into a confrontation with Gilbert at Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, where she worked.
Gilbert began divorce proceedings, but the two got back together in December 2007. They were together for about six months until splitting again. Gilbert gave birth to their third child, a boy, in August.
"We tried to reconcile our differences," Gilbert said. "But he still needs help."
Gilbert is raising all three of their children in Brandon. The pair's oldest is now 5 and playing T-ball. She said her son is the only baseball player she watches.
Gilbert is again pursuing a divorce, but she said it has been held up because Dukes hasn't given his financial records to the court.
Earlier this month, Dukes avoided a possible 90-day jail term by paying $39,767 for Gilbert's outstanding legal fees. He complied with a Hillsborough Circuit Court order to pay her attorneys by June 5.
In March, a judge ordered that $3,889 in child support be deducted from his paycheck every other week and sent to Gilbert for their three children.
In June 2007, a 17-year-old foster child who lived with a relative of Dukes' claimed she had consensual sex with Dukes, then 22, and he was the father of her baby. But Ronesia Leath dropped the paternity suit last year when lab results indicated Dukes was not the father, court documents show.