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Little League to pay fine for Nats' outfielder

Is it my imagination or am I writing more items lately about the Washington Nationals than the Phillies, the team I care about more than any other (and the defending World Series Champions)? What can I say? The odd tales that are coming out of DC just seem to intrigue me more.

The latest involves outfielder Elijah Dukes, who got into the starting lineup after overhyped ex-Mets phenom Lastings Milledge (and his giant ego) was shipped off to the minors. Dukes made a personal appearance on Saturday at the season opener for the Great Falls, Va. Little League. He spoke to the crowd, posed for pictures and signed autographs. Things went quite well...except that he was late getting to Nationals Park for that night's game. Dukes was held out of the lineup that night and the team fined him $500.

Dukes has played in a little over 140 games in the majors since 2007, and his 2009 salary is $415,500. That's paltry by baseball standards but more than many non-professional athletes -- in other words, most of us -- earn, so I think he can afford the fine.

However, the Great Falls Little League plans to raise money to pay the fine:

“We felt terrible, because he was doing work for us that made him late,” Great Falls Little League president Jim Mraz said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The Washington Post first reported on his league’s plans to cover Dukes’ fine.

“We’re raising the money. We’re going to pay the fine. It’s not a question of whether he can afford it or not. That’s none of our business,” Mraz said. “If he was put in a bad light because of us, we should at least pay the $500 for him.”

All well and good, except that they already paid Dukes a $500 appearance fee. See, unlike Washington Redskins cornerback Justin Tryon, who also appeared that day, and, according to Mraz, unlike other players who appeared in previous years, including former Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell, Elijah Dukes had to get paid to show up.

There are times when I can understand pro athletes, as wealthy as many of them are, charging fees just to show up -- for example, the autograph shows where people line up with photos and bats and other merchandise to get signed. Many of these people just want to put up memorabilia for sale on eBay. This isn't one of these times. It's nice that the Little League feels they should pay the fine, but Elijah Dukes should do the right thing and refuse the money.