Saturday, February 23, 2008
Five Minutes With Elijah Dukes
Opportunity always arises when you make the effort. At 12:15 PM this Saturday--fortune came our way. While I was chatting with Odalis Perez between fields--practice for Our Washington Nationals was winding down. A group of players were heading off the field to gather their gear. A rather large player--with his jersey completely surrounding his head--is ducking through to avoid the autograph hounds. I thought it was Wily Mo Pena until Elijah Dukes walked right straight into The African Queen. And apologized profusely. Immediately, Sohna strikes up a conversation--and Elijah engages. He wanted to speak to her.
She mentions the Nats320 Blog and we would enjoy the opportunity to speak with him. Happily--he says yes. "Yeah, no problem." And, completely redresses in his uniform to take some photos--while laughing and joking with Sohna. This was good stuff and TOTALLY UNEXPECTED.
So with that--here we go with one of the most interesting and unexpected interviews ever on The Nats320 Blog.
You seem very happy? (SBF)
“I am good. In fact, I am very content in where I am at right now.”
Why has that changed? What have The Nationals done for you to get you in this mood? (SBF)
“First of all, they have made me feel comfortable. That is the most important thing—no matter what you do. Whether you are at a workplace or here playing baseball—everyone needs to be comfortable with their surroundings. If you are comfortable with your boss—you are going to put out. Here, that is one of the things they are trying to incorporate (into my life). They are not here to bite my head off. They (The Nationals) want me to give 110 (Percent) and hopefully that will pay off at the end for both of us.”
Does that approach help you with your past issues? (SBF)
“Yes, it all comes together. And, it helps here that they (The Nationals) are not trying to hold a cloud over my head. That makes me feel very good.”
Obviously, you have a background that many are well aware of—talked about to no end. Does this opportunity give you the chance to get your life back in order? (SBF)
“Yes, but I have been changing for some time. The fact is true that no one has noticed, because most of the people who really say anything—want me to fail. When I do something good—they don’t report that. They want only the negative. There is a lot of positive in my life, too—nobody knows about it. And people don’t want to care about the good stuff—when they want to report negative stories. Look, I am really content with myself. I am very happy to be making this change right now.”
Can you be specific about those positive things in your life? (SBF)
“Just recently, I did a toy giveaway (for the holidays in the Tampa area). But, I have not been in The Major Leagues all my life—but I have sacrificed a lot—to make others happy. If I can get those in need gloves, equipment—those type of things that makes someone happy—I have done so. And, it makes me feel good, too.”
How about your teammates—have they accepted you? (The African Queen)
“Yes, without a doubt. A lot of these guys here are young and they understand. They accept me and have told me about some of the bad things they have been involved with and not about all the good things—in their lives. They have not made an effort to make me feel like any less of the guy or person they are. That has really made me feel so good that I relax. They say: ‘Look, I use to be like this. but now look at me. You can do this too.’ OK—at least they can expect change.”
How about Dmitri Young and his guidance? (SBF)
“Look at where he came from and see where he is now—it is just amazing to me. He hardly ever frowns. He is always smiling and joking. (He is an inspiration to you?—Sohna). Yes, that’s right. It’s nice to have someone like that around—things can rub off.”
When you were with Tampa—but sort of in limbo over the winter with that franchise—what were your first thoughts when Jim Bowden and The Nationals were interested in you? (SBF)
“I didn’t necessarily have anywhere else to go. There was always something coming out of someone else’s mouth that didn’t know anything about baseball. But, obviously, this trade was the best thing for me. The Team felt like that. My Agent felt like that—so it was a good thing that I was able to get traded and get a new start.”
I am repeating myself—but you seem very happy? (SBF)
“Yes, more than I could ever express.” (Smiling Broadly)
Are you looking forward to the new ballpark? (The African Queen)
Yes, but not only that, but winning and being around a bunch of guys that want to compete to win each and every day. Every time you turn around—there is someone saying ‘We are going to make the playoffs. We want to win. We want to win.’ And that’s what I like to hear, because eventually its going to rub off on me and everyone else surrounding. We all are going to feel that way.”
And you believe you can get all your past out of the way and move on? (SBF)
“Yeah, Yes. I don’t worry about it too much. Things happen and I am only 23 Years old. How many 30 Year olds can sit back and say ‘I have had a perfect life’. No way—buddy (everyone laughing). If I dig on all the reporters backgrounds and their college resumes and get people to talk like ‘This guy did this or this guy did that’—it’s the same thing as here for me. They expect me to be perfect and that’s not how life goes.”
Everybody has skeletons in their closet. (SBF)
“Everybody, not just me. No, I am not the only one.”
So--there you have it--in Elijah Dukes own words. Sure, actions speak louder than words--but Dukes demeanor, his inflection, his manner--were well above anything that Sohna and I expected. Almost instantly--he changed our view of his past. Sure, he's got a long way to go--but he scored some points with us today. Let's see him take it to the next level.
By the way, this impromptu interview did not go unnoticed by Our Washington Nationals. A PR Person came over to check on us. And later--Our Manager Manny Acta said to Sohna and I: "I saw you talking with Elijah--he really is a good person. He just needs a chance."
Not much more to say--these Five Minutes With Elijah Dukes actually made our day at Spring Training in Viera, Florida.