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Kudos to Dukes; Shame on Nats

First, let me make this clear: I 100 percent understand where Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta is coming from when he fined outfielder Elijah Dukes for arriving five minutes late to the team's game on Saturday. I'm one of the purists, and I was raised on the idea that sports are about the team, and no one player or member of the organization is more or less valuable than the next.

That said, in this particular case, my opinion goes against my traditional line of thinking, and I believe the fine was an error in judgment, the benching was unfair to the fans of a team that has little going for it, and the threat of a demotion for Dukes was downright despicable.

For the full story, check out the Post's write-up of how the Great Falls Little League is raising money to cover Dukes' $500 fine. It's a touching story, if for no other reason than Dukes has had his share of troubles since he toiled in the minor league system for the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He's been fined and suspended before, and there was a time where I simply prayed for his mental well being and the safety of his family than for him to ever hit a homer for my team, the Rays.

Dukes turns 25 this summer, and the demotion of Lastings Milledge has paved the way for the power-hitting outfielder to play full-time for the first time in his career. On Saturday he had a chance to make a couple extra bucks, show up at a Little League's Opening Day, sign 500 autographs and give a short speech to the impressionable kids. He then sprinted to his car like he was trying to leg out a triple and headed to the ballpark. Of the 25 big league players that day, Dukes was the only National that arrived late. Acta operates under the notion that all players are treated equal. I get this. But the punishment and threats were wrong.

The Little League's president, Jim Mraz, had this to say in the Post article linked earlier:

"When he first heard about the benching and the fine, you're a little stunned. Like, 'Whoa, wait a minute.' Here's the game of baseball -- it's got steroids hanging over it, all these issues. . . . Needless to say the Nats kind of need help with what they're doing. I could see if he was out trying to do something small or private, but he just came into my community and gave us a shot in the arm."

Dukes brought smiles to the faces of 500 young people. He implored them to keep working hard, and that someday maybe one of them could take his job in the big leagues. Who knows how many other kids showed up on Saturday to cheer on Dukes, their favorite Nationals player.

Maybe next time Dukes will think twice about cutting a community event so close to the time of arrival before a game. But think of how many fewer smiling faces there will be?

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