Elijah Dukes Returns to Tampa for the First Time Since Trade to Nationals

Dukes returns to Tropicana Field for the first time since being dealt from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Nationals on Dec. 3, 2007.
Dukes returns to Tropicana Field for the first time since being dealt from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Nationals on Dec. 3, 2007. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 13, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, June 12 -- Elijah Dukes is not yet a success story. "A work in progress," Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten calls him. In glimpses, he looks like a potential all-star. At other times, injury problems interfere with his development. His history of well-documented legal issues -- which include numerous domestic problems, threats of violence, and court proceedings relating to child support payments -- underscores the tenuousness of Dukes's career.

But, if ever Washington's outfielder can establish himself as a problem-free contributor, the turning point will be clear. On Dec. 3, 2007, Washington acquired Dukes from Tampa Bay -- the franchise that drafted him, the franchise that was happy to deal him. (The Rays asked only for lefty Glenn Gibson in return.)

By leaving his home town, Dukes distanced himself from a city where he was known mostly for his very worst transgressions. Since landing in Washington, Dukes has benefited from a formal support system, which includes full-time assistance from a former police officer, James Williams.

"He hasn't been associated with anything bad or questionable or negative since he's joined us, and part of that is the structure we put in place and the support system," Kasten said. "But, you know, the lion's share of the credit goes to Elijah himself."

Yesterday, Dukes returned to his old ballpark, Tropicana Field, for the first time since the trade. Before the game, he shook hands with Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon and hitting coach Steve Henderson. He declined to comment to members of the media about his homecoming.

Still, the occasion prompted Washington to assess how Dukes has performed -- and behaved -- during the past 1 1/2 years. Though Dukes has few friends in the Nationals' clubhouse, even those who keep their distance acknowledge his hard work ethic. And his value. A recent slump drew Dukes's average down to .253, entering this series, but he already has six homers and 27 RBI despite missing 13 games with a left hamstring injury.

"We know he's not perfect," Manager Manny Acta said. "Neither am I, neither are you. But I believe he's making progress as a human being. How long is it going to take? I don't know. But we haven't had any issues off the field. Everything he's dealing with, it was stuff we knew he had when we brought him over here."

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