Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elijah. A Fiery Ending?

Every so often I give a call to one of my old friends who is now coaching AA within the organization. Besides seeing how he's tolerating the summer heat and a steady diet of bus rides, we chat about what he's seeing and which players are weak or not progressing as projected. Of course, we always get around to talking MLB. I thought that the events surrounding the recent trade deadline would be the topic du jour, but my coaching friend didn't want to talk about Soriano, Abreu, or Maddux.

No, he was more interested in someone named Elijah and his indefinite suspension from the AAA Durham Bulls. More disturbing to him was Elijah's fiery comments about possibly quiting baseball. I am very familiar with the two sport standout from the Tampa area. In 2002, he graduated from Hillsborough High, but what most don't know is that he also attended Jefferson, Chamberlain, and King High Schools. Four schools in four years. If you were to talk with a particular coach from one of these other three schools, you'll get an earful about Elijah's fingerpointing and refusal to accept responsibility for things that went wrong when he had a hand in them. A real team killer. Not to mention that he's been arrested four times since 2003 with the latest being in September of 2005. His own father resides in the Okeechobee (Fla.)Correctional Institution for second-degree murder. As the story goes, Elijah Sr. contronted a man who sold a fake rock of crack for $100 to Elijah's mother. Elijah Sr. shot the man dead.

But Jr.'s an incredible talent. I agree with the projections that he could hit 40 HRs in the big show. That's something you just can't ignore. Or can you? Although the talent is tempting, my coaching buddy was crystal clear that he wouldn't want him on his club. In fact, he told me that he would personally hunt me down if I ever recommended someone like Elijah for the draft. You just can't imagine what it's like to have someone like that in the clubhouse day after day. Non-stop pity party. Always complaining. Very cynical. Never happy. The first to point a finger when things are slumping. It simply drains the energy from a club making it that much harder to succeed.

It also seems that the skipper for the Rays (Joe Maddon) is on the same page. "We can't have that here," Maddon said. "If we're going to be good, that can't be part of us. And I don't care how good [any prospects are], I really don't. In regard to skills, that doesn't matter. We'll be just fine with maybe just a little less skillful, but a good teammate. And that's the message that has to be out there. And I really believe that. And I don't think there's any doubt about that. And that's what we're going to be about."

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