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October 26, 2007 at 1:48 am ET
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The Redemption Of Elijah Dukes — Week One

This Winter, one more chance....

It’s Opening Day. It’s been almost four months since you last played a professional baseball game, but today you’re batting cleanup. It’s beautiful, clear, 85 degrees. You come up for your first at bat in the top of the 1st, with two outs and a man on second.

The opposing pitcher you’re facing is Julio Mateo — who five months ago while a member of the Seattle Mariners, “allegedly beat, choked and bit his wife in their New York hotel room, then fled the scene before police arrived.” Mateo was then banished to AAA and then traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. Do you know this? Do you find it ironic?

But here it is: your first at bat of the season. You single up the middle and drive in the run to give your club the early lead over its cross-town rivals!

Do you flash back to April, when you homered off Carl Pavano in your first career Major League at bat in Yankee Stadium? Or even back to June, your last pro RBI, a bases-loaded infield single off Dontrelle Willis?

Did that slow you down when you got caught stealing to end the first?

Your next time up, you grounded out, then you struck out, then you were taken out in the seventh for a defensive replacement in right. And that was your debut in La Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana.

How did you get here?

Your team, the storied Tigres del Licey, established in 1907 and the winningest team in Dominican baseball history, approached the Devil Rays and your agent about bringing you to Santo Domingo, and all parties agreed it could be a worthwhile move.

Some quotes from a story a week before Opening Day in The Tampa Tribune:

“Baseball’s in his blood,” Dukes’ agent, Scott Pucino, said Tuesday. “He’s ready to go back and play. He’s really looking forward to this opportunity.”

“I think that they’ve worked really hard to keep him a Devil Ray, and him going to the Dominican and them wanting him to go there shows me they want him to play baseball and want him to be ready,” said Pucino. “I think it’s all pretty positive.”

“Elijah continues to make great strides,” Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. “We’re still at the point in the process where it’d be premature to elaborate much more, but we feel like he is at the stage where it’s appropriate for him to go out and play some in the winter league and take it from there.”

Am I really rooting for you? Hell yes. Everybody deserves one last chance. And while I was down on you after that last story, you did seem like a good dude in the one interview I saw you in after you won that game against the Blue Jays.

Hopefully the power of positive thinking will help and The Redemption Of Elijah Dukes: A Winter’s Tale will be a tremendous success. And anyway, Fanhouse seems to have the clown on you and use the word “dawg” in the headline of every post angle covered.

***

So, you and Los Tigres lost your first game to Los Leones del Escogido, 7-2. How would you do in your second game?

In the home opener against Los Azucareros del Este, you’re DHing and batting third and this time you double in your first at bat. Later in the game you draw a walk and strike out twice. Licey comes back from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 win.

My Spanish is pretty limited, but I'm pretty sure this a photo of one of the two guys you threw out at the plate this week -- the Royals prospect.Game 3: At Azucareros, you’re batting third, playing CF. Starting for Azucareros is Carlos Almenzar who was suspended for steroid use in 2005, and involved in the Texas Rangers chair-throwing incident back in 2004. (He’s now in the Red Sox organization.) You walk twice, get beaned, ground out and score a run. Licey wins big, 13-2.

Game 4: At Aguilas, the defending champs and Licey’s arch-rivals. Batting third and playing center, in the top of the 1st, you hit your first home run. It’s a solo shot off Derek Lee, who’s spent the last three seasons with the Rangers AAA club. It’s your first pro homer since a May 30 solo shot off Detroit’s Nate Robertson. Unfortunately, you strike out three times, Licey gets 3 hit, and Aguilas takes the game, 6-1.

Game 5: Home vs. Escogido. Again, you’re money in the first inning — slapping a 2-out single to left off Escogido starter and former Yankee Jorge De Paula (spent ’07 with Colorado’s AA and AAA teams). But now you’re hitting your stride — you triple to lead off the 4th and come around to score the first run. You pop out in the 6th, but Licey wins in a pitcher’s duel, 1-0. You had two of your team’s 3 hits.

Game 6: Home vs. Aguilas. This time you walk in the first inning, but in the second you make your first big play in the field. On a two-out single, your throw to the plate from right nails a runner trying to score from second and keeps the game scoreless. Fast forward to the 8th, you’re 0-for-2, it’s still scoreless, 2 outs, man on 2nd. You single to center to drive in the go-ahead run. In the top of the 9th, you show your defensive skills again, making a nice catch and doubling off the runner at first for your second assist of the game. It’s good enough for Licey’s second straight 1-0 win.

Game 7: Home vs. Gigantes del Cibao. You go 0-for-2 in your worst game so far at the plate, but you get another outfield assist throwing out Mitch Maier (Kansas City’s first round pick in the 2003 draft) at home. It’s a big play in another 1-run win for Licey.

After 7 Games, Licey’s 5-2 and tied for first place in the 6-team league. You’re hitting .316 in 19 at bats, with 3 runs scored, 3 RBI, 3 extra-base hits, 3 outfield assists, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts, and 1 caught stealing.

Check back next week for the latest installment of The Redemption Of Elijah Dukes: A Winter’s Tale….

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