- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Elijah Dukes, the talented but troubled outfielder acquired by the Washington Nationals over the winter, reported to spring training this afternoon and declared himself a changed man.

“I’ve been working on myself a long time,” the 23-year-old said in a press conference at Space Coast Stadium. “I finally found a breakthrough, and from now on, everybody gets a chance to really see [what] the real Elijah Dukes is like.”

Dukes, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on Dec. 3 for pitching prospect Glenn Gibson, has a checkered past. In the last four years alone, he has been arrested multiple times and charged with assault and battery; suspended by the Rays and their Class AAA affiliate for various altercations with umpires, coaches and teammates; accused of impregnating a 17-year-old; and he admitted to smoking marijuana on a regular basis.

The highest-profile incident came last May, when Dukes’ soon to be ex-wife said he left a threatening phone message to her and their children and sent her a text message with a picture of a gun. In June, the Rays removed him from their major league roster and placed him on the temporary inactive list. He didn’t play the rest of the season.

Dukes arrived at the ballpark yesterday with his 3-year-old son, Elijah Jr., at his side and admitted this could be his last chance to prove he has overcome his past.

“I know I have to get it together now,” he said.

Dukes has been working extensively with a player adviser hired by the Nationals to mentor and watch over him. General manager Jim Bowden said the adviser, James Williams, has spent nearly every waking moment with Dukes over the last two months, at times even sleeping at the player’s house.

“He kind of comes in and gives me that tough love and shoots it to me straight,” Dukes said. “We kind of do things together that kind of reflect a kind of father and son type thing. That’s a good feeling to always have.”

A multi-talented outfielder who hit 10 homers with 21 RBI in only 52 games with Tampa Bay, Dukes isn’t assured of a roster spot in Washington. He enters camp with Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge and Austin Kearns penciled in as the starting outfielders, meaning he must battle for a reserve spot.

“I just see myself going out there competing for a job,” Dukes said. “I’m going to give 110 percent and I’m going to let everything else lie on the hands of the general manager and the manager. All I know is I’m going to go out there and play hard.”

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