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Monday, June 21, 2021

Willie Dukes played 3 seasons, then became firefighter

Willie Dukes 1990 Elmira Pioneers card

Willie Dukes attempted to sum up his career to Delta Democrat-Times in 2019 - both his brief playing stint and his much-longer post-playing career.

He played three seasons in pro ball, then he moved on to a career in firefighting.

"I enjoyed the experience and really got a chance to do something that not many people get a chance to do," Dukes, a fire department battalion chief, told The Democrat-Times. "I was released after a few seasons back in April of 1992. By June of 1992, I was working for the Greenville Fire Department. And I've been here for 27 years."

Dukes' brief baseball career began in 1989, taken by the Red Sox in the 36th round of the draft out of Mississippi Delta Community College.

Dukes started with the Red Sox at short-season Elmira and the rookie Gulf Coast League. He got into 52 games and hit .205. He hit a double in an early September game for Elmira.

He returned to Elmira for 63 games in 1990, as well as 24 at high-A Winter Haven. He hit .206 on the year, with five home runs. He hit his fifth home run in an early August game.

That July, the usual outfielder was pressed into service as a catcher, The Elmira Star-Gazette wrote

"Dukes hasn't caught since high school, but I think he's going to turn into an excellent catching prospect," Elmira manager Mike Verdi told The Star-Gazette. "The biggest think about being a good catcher is attitude. You've got to be a take-charge guy."

Dukes moved back to Winter Haven in 1991. He got into 80 games and hit .162. That season marked his last as a pro.

In 2017, Dukes' son, Willie Dukes III, readied to go off to college and play ball. As he did, the son cited his father, according to The Democrat-Times

"I want to follow in my father's footsteps. He played ball at the next level in the minor leagues with the Red Sox," the son told The Democrat-Times. "Seeing my father play at the next level made me play even harder."

Willie Dukes 1990 Elmira Pioneers card

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,678
Made the Majors:1,254-34.1%
Never Made Majors:2,424-65.9%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors:522
10+ Seasons in the Minors:309

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