Elijah Dukes is an outfielder for the Washington Nationals, and made headlines recently when he was fined by the team for being late to a game.
His reason was that he was attending a Little League function. Now what’s wrong with this picture?
Dukes was at an Opening Day ceremony in nearby Virginia, and after talking to the young players, signing autographs, and giving a brief speech, hurried to the ballpark, but was tardy.
Of course, the children were thrilled to see a real big-league ball player up close, and he was nice enough to give of his time. That Dukes was fined $500 was idiotic. The Nationals made him appear to be the bad guy, when in fact it was the club that looked foolish. He should have been encouraged, rather than told that he was being fined.
A few days after the function, the Little League said that it would pay the fine. Dukes, who is in his third season in the major leagues, can pay the fine himself, but that it was levied in the first place is hard to believe.
The Nationals reasoned that it was a function they didn’t sponsor, and that if he’s late, then everyone can be tardy. It shouldn’t matter that the club didn’t sponsor the event. That he was there for the children should have taken precedence.
The point is that he had a good reason, and that he was helping promote baseball at a time when the game needs it. This is the kind of good publicity that can help offset the negative press like steroid use by over-paid players.
I’ve covered many opening ceremonies, and it’s a great deal of fun for those boys and girls. It’s usually sunny, and they get to wear their uniforms and carry their gloves. There are banners, food and drinks, and their parents, grandparents, and friends couldn’t be more proud. Now what can be more fun than that at the age of 10?
And to top it off, there’s an actual major-league player there to wish them well. Dukes, a Florida native, didn’t have to appear, didn’t have to address the kids, nor give them high-fives. He did it because he wanted to. I say bravo.
It’s not often that kids get to see a big-leaguer in the flesh, and it had to be exciting for everyone there.
Dukes, a 24-year-old right fielder, is off to a great start, hitting .302 with 10 runs batted in, two homers and four doubles.
If Dukes, who came up to the major leagues in 2007 with Tampa Bay, develops into a star, those children can say they saw him when he was a relative unknown.
In a time when everyone, including adults needs a hero, Dukes, who has a .242 lifetime batting average with 25 homers, became one.
In the future, it’s hoped that what the Nationals did won’t have a chilling effect. That would be a shame.