- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - When outfielder Elijah Dukes made a personal appearance at a Virginia Little League’s season-opening gathering for a little extra cash a few hours before a Washington Nationals game, he turned up late at his day job and was fined.

Now the Great Falls, Va., Little League _ already out the $500 Dukes was promised so he’d show up over the weekend _ says it will raise another $500 to cover Dukes’ penalty for failing to arrive at Nationals Park on time. He also was dropped from the starting lineup that day.

Dukes’ 2009 salary with the Nationals is $415,500. He declined to comment about the matter before Washington’s game against Atlanta on Tuesday night.

“We felt terrible, because he was doing work for us that made him late,” Great Falls Little League president Jim Mraz said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The Washington Post first reported on his league’s plans to cover Dukes’ fine.

“We’re raising the money. We’re going to pay the fine. It’s not a question of whether he can afford it or not. That’s none of our business,” Mraz said. “If he was put in a bad light because of us, we should at least pay the $500 for him.”

The league planned to have collection jugs at its games starting Tuesday night. Any extra money raised will be donated to a little league based near the Nationals’ stadium.

Mraz said another pro athlete who attended Saturday’s festivities for the league’s 54 teams, Redskins cornerback Justin Tryon, did not receive an appearance fee _ nor, Mraz thinks, have other players who participated in the past, such as former Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell.

Dukes had various off-field troubles, including arrests for assault and marijuana possession, before the Nationals acquired him in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2008 season. By all accounts, he has not had such problems since joining the Nationals. In January, a judge did threaten Dukes with 90 days in jail if he didn’t meet a deadline for paying more than $40,000 in court-ordered child support and alimony to his estranged wife. At the time, a lawyer for Dukes said the player probably would borrow the money to satisfy the court order.

On Saturday, at the Great Falls Little League’s opening day, Dukes gave high-fives to children and spoke to the crowd before leaving.

“He was very engaging,” Mraz said. “He signed baseballs. He took pictures with kids. He was a delight. The kids loved him.”

Like other sports franchises, the Nationals encourage their players to participate in charitable activities, and the team regularly organizes such functions, setting them up at times that won’t interfere with games.

“He was late for work,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday. “It’s not fair for his teammates if he’s late for work.”

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