It’s not major trouble by his standards — he’d have to be accused of robbing a moving train or sedition or something in order for this to really register on the Elijah Dukes scale — but the former Ray and Nat was arrested again, this time for failing to pay court-ordered child support payments. Like, a lot of them.
My point of bringing this up is not to pile on Dukes. God knows the poor sod has had enough of that. But to remind us that, as the offseason gets underway, we’re soon going to be reintroduced to baseball’s version of magical thinking. The fantasy tales that are the lifeblood of the hot stove season. From the very minor — hey, did you hear that Joe Shlabotnik is in the best shape of his life? — to the desperate — Why, yes, Johnny Elbow is on the comeback trail! — to the downright sad — Did you hear that Joe Outfielder has finally faced down his demons and turned his life around? — the winter is the time when everyone seems to check their skepticism at the door and allows themselves to believe that things can change.
And sometimes they do change. But for every Josh Hamilton story, there are ten Elijah Dukes stories. Of young men with great talent either throwing it away or having it taken away from them due to injury or circumstance. And never coming back.
Elijah Dukes is never going to play Major League Baseball again. Most of us never figured he would, and we certainly won’t miss him. But there are others we will miss if they don’t return. And, as we read that feature story about long workouts in the dead of winter or long months in rehab of one sort or another, we’ll trick ourselves into thinking that they will overcome those odds and will come back. But, sadly, most of the time they won’t.
Baseball is a tough game. There is always someone waiting to take an open job. There aren’t many real opportunities for comebacks. Certainly not for a good-but-not-great nutcase like Elijah Dukes. But not for a more pleasant brand of outcast either.