Dukes Heads Home

As the Devil Rays’ world turned this week, it looked like the news would be good for the talented prospects at Triple-A Durham, with B.J. Upton getting his long-awaited promotion to the big leagues.

It didn’t take long for things to turn sour again, however, with the club announcing on Tuesday that it was suspending outfielder Elijah Dukes indefinitely, and Dukes responding that he might be through with baseball.

The Devil Rays said in a release that they were suspending Dukes indefinitely “pending a review of the incident which led to his suspension by the International League.” The 22-year-old outfielder was suspended for five games by the IL after arguing balls and strikes and then refusing to leave the field after he was ejected on July 25, a matter that wouldn’t seem to require a lot of further review. He had been scheduled to return to the lineup at Triple-A Durham Tuesday night.

It was Dukes’ second suspension of the season, and he was also placed on the temporarily inactive list in May after he was involved in an argument with Bulls hitting coach Richie Hebner. A week before the second suspension, Dukes and Bulls manager John Tamargo got into a heated argument in the dugout after the outfielder ran through a stop sign at third base.

“I have no idea when or if I’ll be back,” Dukes said in a telephone interview. “I packed up all my stuff and I’m headed home. To be honest, I don’t even know about baseball anymore. Everything is just wearing on me and this year has just been so frustrating. I’m trying to keep my nose clean and keep to myself, but things just keep getting turned around. I’m tired of it.”

The Devil Rays declined to comment on Dukes’ suspension, but a spokesman said the team would release a statement regarding Dukes soon.

Dukes is a five-tool outfielder who was recruited heavily as a linebacker out of Hillsborough High in Tampa, and he said he is contemplating his future as a baseball player.

“I just don’t know about baseball anymore,” he said. “All this stuff keeps following me and now this. I’m tired of it. I don’t know if I’m coming back or what. I don’t know about the (Arizona) Fall League. I don’t know about anything other than I’m going home.

“I’m not saying I should have tried to get to the NFL, but maybe I should have done something else.”

Dukes came into spring training with an optimistic outlook, and he talked in a Baseball America story before the season about his tough upbringing and previous clashes with authority and how he wanted to put it all behind him. Both he and the Devil Rays looked forward to a breakout year for Dukes and the continued development of Upton and outfielder Delmon Young at Durham.

It hasn’t worked out that way. All three have run into problems either off the field or on, and it has been a bad year from both a development and public-relations standpoint for the players and the Devil Rays and Bulls. Young gained national attention for throwing a bat at an umpire in May and earning a 50-game suspension, while Upton was charged with driving while impaired in June.

The latest pothole came last week in a USA Today story reviewing the problems the three players have had this season. The story focuses on the players’ bitterness about not being in the big leagues and quotes Dukes criticizing conditions in Durham, saying in part, “Those guys up there (in the big leagues) shower in Evian. Here, we use sewer water.”

Dukes says he was misquoted by another reporter who’s trying to make him and his teammates look bad.

“I love playing in Triple-A and I’m not (ticked) off about not being in the big leagues,” he said. “If they want to give me a 10-year contract to play in Durham, I’d do it. I never said anything about my uniform being dirty or whatever. It’s a joke.”

Dukes has avoided trouble away from baseball this year, but repeated disciplinary action from the Devil Rays shows he and the organization still aren’t seeing eye to eye.

“It’s all the same thing,” Dukes said. “They’ve all been saying that I’m a bad influence on those two guys for two years. I didn’t room with Delmon this year (Dukes was Young’s roommate at Double-A Montgomery in 2005), but still I’m the bad apple.

“I didn’t tell Delmon to throw his bat at that umpire. I didn’t tell B.J. to go driving his car after he had some drinks. I don’t even hang out with those guys. It was always just me in my apartment after games or whatever. I think I went out twice and both times I got a cab because I don’t need any more hassle than I already have on me.”