Roger Mooney covers the Tampa Bay Rays for The Tampa Tribune, TBO.com and News Channel 8. He has covered the Rays since their first season in 1998, including 11 years for the Bradenton Herald. Roger has also covered Florida, South Florida and Florida State football, the Bucs and the Lightning.
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Dukes Says He’s Found Himself With Nationals
Posted Feb 20, 2008 by Aaron Knox
Updated Feb 20, 2008 at 05:01 PM
Former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes said all the right things today in his first public comments since being traded to the Washington Nationals this past winter.
With his 3-year-old son, Elijah Jr., frollicking in the interview room at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Dukes was asked whether he believed this was his last chance to succeed in baseball.
“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 said he greeted the news of the trade with a blend of excitement and disappointment.
“The good part of it was that I get the chance to get a clean slate,” he said. “The bad part of it, I never want to leave a job with the negative behind. You always want to leave on a good note, and I didn’t get that chance. That’s the sad part about it.”
Dukes did not blame the Rays organization for his past issues, which included very public and troubling domestic disputes with his estranged wife.
“I had good support [from the Rays],” he said. “I’ve been trying to find myself for a long time. It’s a shame that it happened, maybe, after the trade, moreso than before the trade. But they gave me a lot of support, and as everybody knows, they gave me my chances. They put people in my way that could help me, but it was just finding myself.”
He did find himself this past off-season, he said, thanks in part to some tough love from Nationals player assistance specialist James Williams, whom Dukes likened to a “second father.” He said he saw signs of improvement and personal growth during the off-season.
“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.”
Nationals president Stan Kasten said that the organization purposely chose to keep Dukes out of the public eye after the trade.
“We understood that the best way for this to work for the Nationals, for Elijah, was to do a number of different things on a number of different fronts,” Kasten said. “One of the decisions we made was not to make him available to the media, and I take responsibility for the decision, with the thought that the things that we wanted to accomplish had the best chance of succeeding out of the glare of the media.”
Kasten and Nats GM Jim Bowden expressed optimism that Dukes would be able to keep his personal troubles behind him and help the organization going forward.
“Everything that we’ve asked him to do in his personal life and his professional life, he has absolutely followed 100 percent,” Bowden said. “Our plan is for him to continue to do that.”