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Washington Nationals: Elijah Dukes' Long Winter.

The plan was simple. Washington Nationals' outfielder Elijah Dukes, (who'd been sent down to Triple-A Syracuse for a month in the middle of the '09 campaign only to return and hit .257 with a .366 OBP, .368 SLG, 7 doubles, 3 triples, 2 HR's and 28 RBI's in the last 50 games of the season), was to go to the Dominican Winter League where he'd don the royal blue of the Tigres del Licey this winter and work on the one glaring hole in his game, an inability to hit the sort of breaking stuff DWL pitchers are known for throwing. Dukes would play just four games for Licey, (going 3 for 10 with 2 HR's, 5 RBI's, 4 walks and 4 K's with the Tigres), and then just a week before Thanksgiving, the outfielder abruptly left the Dominican Republic to return home to Florida and spend time with his father, who had fallen ill shortly after being released from prison following a 14-year sentence, only to pass away three weeks later, succumbing to cancer which had gone undetected during his time in jail. 

For nearly a month, the only image fans of the Nationals, and Dukes in particular, were provided with was in an article by St. Petersburgh Times' Staff Writer Colleen Jenkins entitled, "Elijah Dukes' family mourns death of his father, question prison medical care", where Ms. Jenkins described Dukes sitting, "...on the porch of the family's east Tampa home, unwilling to talk about his father's death with a reporter." 

Nationals' Manager Jim Riggleman made the trip to Florida to attend a viewing for Dukes' father, and Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin, in a 12/9/09 Nationals Journal post entitled, "Nationals notes: Dukes, L. Hernandez", quoted Mr. Riggleman stating that he had spoken to Dukes, "'It hit him hard...because Elijah was really looking forward to his father seeing him play -- and then after a few weeks, he's gone.'" 

Riggleman's visit, as described by Elijah Dukes in's Bill Ladson's 1/5/09 article entitled, "Dukes' expectations raised for 2010", "...was, by far, the most [heartwarming] things a coach ever did,":

"It meant a lot to me. I really wasn't expecting him to be there. I had tears in my eyes when I first saw him. I loved that he came out to show his respects. It made me feel good.

" far as that emotional standpoint. Riggleman coming down like that really puts the icing on the cake. He goes down as a good guy in my book. I don't care what [anybody] says. Nobody really does that type of thing nowadays. They send people, but to have the manager of a baseball team -- that means a lot to me."

A week before Dukes had departed the Dominican Republic, in an 11/13/09 article entitled, "Dukes 'went to bat' for Riggleman",'s Byron Kerr quoted Mr. Riggleman's agent relaying the story of how the 25-year-old outfielder had, "...recommended to the Nationals that they resign Riggleman and enthusiastically encouraged the team to retain him," in the weeks before Riggleman was given the full-time gig, because, according to Mr. Kerr:

"Dukes greatly admires the way Riggleman led him and the ballclub and felt Riggleman's teachings improved his outfield play..."

Back in's Bill Ladson's interview with Dukes, he further explained the difference the Nationals' skipper meant to him and the entire team, telling Mr. Ladson, "...the relationship that we have is right on,":

"He would come up to everybody after the game and he would always say something encouraging. Because of the positive outlook that he had, we wanted to put out. Everybody wanted to do [well] for him, because he believed in everybody. So, I go into camp knowing that he is going to be the manager. He is going to sit there and give us 110 percent every day."

Does the Nats' Manager have the same faith in Elijah Dukes ability to become the Nationals' everyday right fielder this season? "Definitely," Mr. Riggleman told's Ben Goessling in an interview today entitled, "A Q and A with Jim Riggleman":

"I don't think there's any reason he can't, but again, that's all talk at this point. (Hitting coach) Rick Eckstein continued to work with him and make progress at the plate. He did some pretty good things. Any player who's his age, they're working toward the prime of their career, age-wise. He's going to be hitting his stride."

A player who believes so strongly in his manager that he's willing to lobby the team's ownership on the skipper's behalf. A manager who instills confidence in his players, earning their respect and inspiring them to succeed in order to reward the faith he's shown in them. Will DC fans see a different Elijah Dukes in 2010? Will the baserunning errors and the errant throws disappear? Will Dukes continue to improve his patience and discipline at the plate? Can he finally become the player coaches and scouts have predicted he can be for years? I've been following Dukes' career since he hit home runs out of the old Yankee Stadium in each of his first two MLB games, could 2010 finally be Elijah Dukes' breakout season?

• Elijah Dukes Stats -- 

• 2009 Stats - 91 for 364, .250 AVG, 20 doubles, 4 triples, 8 HR's, 38 RBI's, 46 BB, 74 K's, 8 GDP, 3 SB, 10 CS, 12 outfield assists, 8 E, .965 FLD%, (-9.6) UZR/150, (-0.1) WAR...

• Bill James' 2010 Projections - 91 for 346, .263 AVG, 19 doubles, 3 triples, 12 HR's, 55 RBI's, 49 BB, 68 K's, 9 SB, 6 CS, .359 OBP, .439 SLG, .798 OPS, ( - CHONE Projection - (+1.8) WAR - Fan Projections - (+2.5) WAR...

Dukes' DWL Dingers: