A good idea, a fine, and a reward

Published 9:55 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Washington Nationals are 2-10 through the first two weeks of the baseball season. And the worst part of the 2-10 record is it’s no fluke.

For most of the summer, with the exception of some Philadelphia and New York fans taking a weekend trip down to tour the nation’s capitol, the Nats’ sparkling, new stadium will be sparkling with shiny, empty seats.

So the Nationals need all the good news possible. It took a fine and a local Little League to bring about a little good news, sort of.

Email newsletter signup

On Saturday, Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes went to an appearance at Great Falls Little League in northern Virginia. He signed autographs, spoke to the kids, watched a parade of all the Little Leaguers, but was then late getting from the appearance to the Nationals’ home game against Florida.

The appearance at Great Falls Little League, normally something a pro sports team would eagerly encourage its players to go to, was not cleared between Dukes and the club beforehand. In an effort to be consistent with his rules, Washington manager Manny Acta fined Dukes $500. Acta and Nationals management also said Dukes could be sent to the minors if there’s another problem in the future.

“It was a bizarre situation, because he was doing something that we encourage our players to do,” said Acta.

“He was very remorseful about it. He felt bad, but we have to lay down the law. Regardless of who is out there, we are still losing ballgames. We have to change the culture somehow.”

It’s an even better story, since Dukes has had a lengthy list of problems much more serious than playing for a crummy baseball team. Dukes has been arrested four times for either assault or battery. In May 2007, his wife filed a restraining order after alleging that Dukes threatened to kill her.

After getting Dukes in a trade before the 2008 season, the Nationals hired a “special assistant” who helps Dukes and helps keep him out of trouble.

When the leaders and parents at Great Falls Little League heard about the fine, they paid it for Dukes.

“The point is, this guy gave back to our community, and now he’s in a hard spot. We need to help him,” Jim Mraz, president of the Little League, told the Washington Post.

“It’s not a question of whether this guy can afford the 500 bucks. We’re just trying to send a message to our kids: He was here for us. Now we’ve got to be there for him,” said Mraz.

That’s a great lesson to teach. Here’s another quick lesson for Dukes in the future: Make sure to visit Great Falls Little League next spring, but ask to schedule the parade and autographs for an hour earlier.