Sheffield willing to give advice to troubled rookie Dukes

Updated: May 29, 2007, 8:42 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

If Devil Rays rookie outfielder Elijah Dukes feels the need to reach out for advice in light of his latest troubles, Gary Sheffield says he'll be there to listen.

Gary Sheffield
I'm no authority figure, like you've got to listen to me. I just want to help him.

Gary Sheffield

Dukes was held out of two games last week amid allegations that he made death threats against his estranged wife and their two young children. It's the latest incident involving Tampa Bay's talented leadoff hitter/center fielder, who also had a troubled minor league experience.

Sheffield, 38, grew up in Tampa and like the 22-year-old Dukes, he was a standout player at Hillsborough High School. The perennial All-Star outfielder also has faced a lion's share of on-field and off-field issues in the two decades since his major league debut at 19 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

"We all need somebody to help us through our youth," Sheffield said, according to The Tampa Tribune.

Sheffield spent his first four seasons in Milwaukee, where he established himself as a talented yet temperamental star-in-the-making with a ferocious swing. Sheffield was dealt to San Diego after the 1991 season, a trade he forced, through his own admission, by deliberately making errors in his rookie season.

Sheffield is in his first season with the Tigers after stops in San Diego, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and the Bronx. In the time spent with those teams, he hit hundreds of home runs, argued publicly about his contracts with the Dodgers and Yankees, squabbled with teammates and his former agent, and was accused of receiving performance-enhancing substances from BALCO.

While talking with reporters on Monday about Dukes before Detroit played the Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sheffield acknowledged he sympathizes with Dukes and is willing to share some of the wisdom gained during his tumultuous career.

"I'm no authority figure, like you've got to listen to me," Sheffield said, according to the newspaper. "I just want to help him."

Last week, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Dukes' estranged wife NiShea Gilbert filed for court protection after receiving a threatening message on her cell phone on May 2, as well as a text message that included a picture of a handgun. Dukes also threatened the children's safety in the phone message, which Gilbert played for the paper.

Gilbert, a middle school teacher, said Dukes showed up at her classroom on April 30 while her students were at lunch and threatened her.

"I just don't want it to get out of control," Sheffield told the Times. "When you start with the threats and the guns, that can get out of control. If you're talking about arguing with the umpires or something you're later going to regret, all of that can be fixed. & When it starts going a little higher, then it gets a little scary for me and I get nervous."

Sheffield, who works out with Dukes in the offseason, said he talks to Dukes during the season, but the two haven't talked about the reported threats made by Dukes.

"It saddens me because it's starting out this way for him," Sheffield said, according to the Tampa Tribune. "When I get the phone calls, and I get them regular about him, it saddens me."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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