tampabay.com

Dukes: Sorry for 'distraction'

By MARC TOPKIN and EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 30, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Troubled Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes apologized to "family, teammates, the fans and the organization" Tuesday for causing a distraction, though it took him two tries to get it done.

Dukes first stood on the field after batting practice, looking nervous in front of about 25 media members (though joking "I feel like a movie star") and, speaking without notes, jumbled his words, saying he wanted to "apologize to the organization for sticking by me."

About 90 minutes later, the Rays issued a written "clarification" containing what Dukes "meant to say:"

"I would like to apologize to my family, teammates, the fans and the organization for the distraction that this situation has caused. I would like to thank them for standing by me and hope that my family and I can move on and put this behind us."

The idea of the statement- the day after Dukes was in the spotlight with a game-winning hit - was the result of several conversations between Dukes and Rays officials. It was his preference to speak without notes.

Dukes' estranged wife, NiShea Gilbert, said Dukes' apology was a good sign.

"At least he made a step forward and apologized," she said. "If he did that on his own, then it's definitely a step forward. But it doesn't change much. Our kids are still suffering. (My son) won't even let me turn the Devil Rays games on."

A hearing on the domestic violence restraining order Gilbert placed on Dukes is scheduled for this morning in Plant City. Gilbert filed a temporary restraining order May 17 after Dukes confronted her at her middle-school job.

She also alleges he sent an irate phone message on her home phone and sent her cell phone a photo of a handgun and has said she fears for the lives of her and the couple's two young children.

Gilbert said Tuesday night she plans on following through on the restraining order. She has filed four others, and one was granted in October 2004 that lasted a year. Dukes is not legally bound to attend today's hearing.

While on the field, Dukes also answered a few questions that the team limited to baseball-only topics. Before the game in a stadium weight room, Dukes talked to Tigers slugger and fellow Tampa native Gary Sheffield, who Monday offered counsel.

Dukes said he felt no pressure and was not distracted by the controversy stemming from last week's St. Petersburg Times report of Gilbert's allegations.

"The other stuff don't ever weigh on my mind," he said. "When I step out on the field, that's all I concentrate on is just playing baseball. I'm always focused."

He also was asked if baseball meant more to him now.

"My family means the most to me," he said. "Baseball is a great love, but it's always family first."