- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009


Jim Mraz is a little embarrassed about the attention, but the story he helped create seems headed for a happy ending.

Mraz, the president of Great Falls Little League, last week took up a collection to pay the $500 fine the Washington Nationals slapped on outfielder Elijah Dukes for showing up five minutes late for a game after appearing at the league’s Opening Day ceremonies.

This created quite a buzz, both here and nationally. So much, in fact, that Mraz said the money has come pouring in, exceeding Dukes’ fine and allowing the league to assist its favorite charity. For several years, it has donated athletic equipment, food, clothing, toys and holiday gifts to the Little League program and other folks who live in the District’s Ward 8.

All of this resulted from some of the coverage, intentionally or not, portraying Dukes as a Good Samaritan mistreated by his Scrooge-like manager, Manny Acta, and punished for “giving back to the community.” Downplayed or even ignored was the somewhat important fact that Dukes, who makes $415,000 for playing baseball, got $500 for his time.

The concepts of charity and community service do not include cash payment for services rendered. Mraz understands this; he works countless hours for his league. And he understands that Acta needs to establish rules and guidelines. But Mraz said he felt for Dukes who, by all accounts, was a gracious guest.

Maybe so, but Dukes was no victim. He got paid. Mraz said that, shortly before the event, a friend told him Dukes was available — for a fee. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and Mraz went for it. Running a local Little League is like running a small business, he said.

Mraz knows how much the Nationals pay Dukes, but he also knows about Dukes’ difficulties off the field, which include a tangle of legal problems. He said he is in no position to judge whether the money — which adds up to $1,000 — is that important to Dukes but figures it can’t hurt.

An upbeat idealist, Mraz said he hopes Dukes’ exposure to a friendly, nurturing environment might help lead to good things ahead. “I just want the kid to understand, ‘Hey Elijah, you got an opportunity. Follow the good path,’ ” he said.

Dukes could take a few steps along the path by thanking Great Falls Little League for its generosity and paying the fine himself. Even better would be if he donated his appearance fee to Ward 8. It would be a kindhearted gesture — the true meaning of giving back to the community.


“We have to play with some type of heart. … We’re just out there like we’re going through the motions, it seems like.” — Detroit forward Antonio McDyess after his team’s Game 2 loss to Cleveland

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