Monday, February 21, 2005
Ponson: Jail stay was 'life-changing experience'
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- An 11-day jail stay in his native
land of Aruba taught Sidney Ponson a valuable lesson, one that will
forever alter the way he handles his celebrity status.
Being a high-paid major league pitcher has its perks. Ponson
owns a lavish house in south Florida and parks his new black
Mercedes in a prime spot at the Baltimore Orioles' spring training
But popularity has its price. In the wake of a Christmas Day
brawl in which he landed in jail after allegedly punching a judge,
Ponson says he's no longer at ease in public.
"I approach things differently now," he said Monday. "I
definitely see this as a life-changing experience. ... You sit in a
restaurant, you're always looking around. I'm looking over my
shoulder because you never know what can happen. You pay more
attention to the little things."
Soon after being released from jail, Ponson retreated to his
Florida home. He must return to Aruba for a hearing on March 3 and
still intends to visit his homeland during the offseason. But his
misadventure on Christmas made him realize that not everyone in
Aruba perceives him to be a hero.
"Now I know a couple people on the island don't like me, but
it's part of being a human being," he said. "Some people in
Baltimore don't like me."
That's one reason why he's so comfortable in Florida.
"Nobody knows me in Fort Lauderdale. It's awesome," he said.
"I go everywhere and nobody knows who I am."
In Aruba, almost everyone knows Sidney Ponson. In 1998, he
became the third Aruban to play in the major leagues. In 2003, he
was decorated in his homeland as a knight in the Order of the Dutch
He would trade that honor for the chance to shop for groceries
without being pulled aside to talk about baseball, or to sign an
"I can't keep a low profile. I'm the only one there. I go to
the supermarket and they notice me," he said. "What happened, I
can do nothing about. That doesn't mean I'm going to go to Aruba
and sit in my house. I might as well just stay here. I am who I am,
and hopefully people respect that.
"I will never throw Aruba away. I was born there, I still love
that island. I will go back. Time heals everything. I just approach
things different now."
Ponson, 28, has long carried a reputation as a fun-loving guy
with a solid right arm. But he's also considered something of an
underachiever; his lifetime record of 69-80 belies his talent.
At this camp, however, Ponson is carrying a renewed
determination that some attribute to his harrowing stint in jail.
"He was probably embarrassed about what happened. It's
something you'd like to say is behind him right now," Orioles
manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You don't want to say it was a
blessing in disguise, but I think it was a little bit of an
awakening. I can see a big difference in his attitude in camp."
It's almost as if Ponson is more at home on the baseball diamond
than in his homeland.
"He can't go home and just relax on the island because he's a
star," Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said. "He goes there and
everyone's after him. Since that incident, though, he's changed his
lifestyle. It's obvious watching him on the field."
Said Ponson: "Right now I'm calm, relaxed, happy to be here
with my teammates. I want to get this behind me. I made a mistake --
I keep saying that over and over again -- and I cannot undo that. I
just have to focus on baseball."
Ponson reported to camp at 253 pounds, 13 pounds less than his
reporting weight of a year ago. He's in better shape in body -- and
"Sidney is certainly very focused on this season, as witnessed
by the condition that he's in," said his agent, Barry Praver. "I
think it would be safe to say that an experience like that would
have an impact on anybody, on their personal life and their
business life. When you are a high-profile person you have to be
more cautious, and you do become more of a target."