Fantasy Future (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2007 12:11PM; Updated: Tuesday March 13, 2007 12:11PM
That history dogs him wherever he goes, even in his home ballpark. After striking out during an exhibition game in St. Petersburg last week, he walked back to the dugout to heckles of "Criminal!" from the stands. Dukes's rap sheet includes arrests for domestic violence in 1998; for assault in 2003 (the charge was dropped); for resisting an officer in '03; for domestic battery in 2005 (he pleaded no contest and received one year's probation); and for driving an unregistered vehicle in '05. Two months ago he was arrested for marijuana possession.
The low point of his baseball career came last August, when Rays minor league director Mitch Lukevics informed him that he was suspended for the final 30 games of the season. Nine days before Dukes had been ejected from a game for arguing balls and strikes with an ump, then had refused to leave the dugout. There's a reason for Dukes's anger, and he offers it not as an alibi but as a tacit plea for understanding. He grew up in crime-ridden East Tampa and was 11 years old when his father, Elijah Dukes Sr., fatally shot a man who, according to Tampa police reports, swindled Elijah Sr.'s wife, Phyllis, into buying $100 worth of phony crack cocaine. A year later Elijah Sr., pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. "Having to grow up with that when you're 12, having to fend for yourself and be the man of the house, that's not easy," says Dukes, who has five siblings. "That probably made me a little angry as a kid, and maybe that's why I sometimes feel like I have to be more aggressive than I need to be."
To help Dukes manage his anger issues, Friedman introduced him to Boston-based life coach Andre Norman, an ex-convict who had been imprisoned for attempted murder. The two spoke almost daily during the off-season, and Norman escorted Dukes on a tour of east coast cities to talk to troubled youths. "I was shy, kind of a loner type," says Dukes, "but talking to people opened me up."
At camp this spring, coaches and teammates have similarly found Dukes to be more outgoing and at ease than in the past. "He's working hard, listening to everything that's being said, saying all the right things," says hitting coach Steve Henderson.
The Tampa staff applies that same description to Dukes's close friend Young, who even before the infamous bat-throwing incident had a reputation as a malcontent, often grousing during his brief stint in the minors that he deserved a promotion to the majors. The meltdown and subsequent suspension, however, apparently served as a wake-up call. Upton, then Young's teammate at Durham, recalls rushing into the locker room and hollering, "Do you know what you just did? What were you thinking?" Young immediately dialed up Friedman on his cellphone to apologize.
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