After spending 11 days in an Aruban jail cell, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson decided this wasn't the best time to be making public appearances.
With the team's blessing, Ponson declined an invitation to participate tomorrow in its annual FanFest at the Convention Center, and he also pulled out of a scheduled appearance on the Orioles' cruise.
Ponson has been a regular at both functions, but he spoke with Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan about the need to stay out of the spotlight and prepare for spring training.
"He seemed to be focused on what the next step was, as far as working out and getting ready for the season," Flanagan said yesterday.
Ponson, 28, was detained for 11 days for allegedly striking a judge during a Christmas Day beach fight in his native Aruba. After being released Wednesday, he flew to his home in Florida, but he is scheduled to stand trial in Aruba on March 3.
He still faces three charges - violence in public directed against other persons; attempted assault and battery; and premeditated assault and battery - but his attorney, Chris Lejuez, said he is optimistic Ponson's sentence won't include more jail time.
The Orioles do not plan to punish Ponson separately from whatever punishment he receives through the law. He was on a Jet Ski before the fight, and the club could have voided his contract had this caused him injury, but since that didn't happen, the point is moot.
Still, the Orioles have long counseled Ponson about getting his act together. Privately this week, team officials said they hope this is a wake-up call.
A year ago, after signing a three-year, $22.5 million contract to return to the Orioles, Ponson reported to spring training at 266 pounds - 16 pounds heavier than the previous spring.
This week, Ponson emerged from jail weighing less than 250 pounds.
He went back to the gym, and he asked Flanagan for permission to begin pitching off the Orioles' spring training mounds in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"If you had seen Sidney prior to the incident in Aruba, it was clear he was well on his way to being prepared for the upcoming season," said Ponson's agent, Barry Praver. "Now ... he intends to take his preparation to another level."
Still, Ponson is involved in a serious legal matter now, and the Orioles did not want to subject him to a public forum such as FanFest, which drew an estimated 15,000 to the Convention Center last year.
Ponson's only comments since the incident came Wednesday, when he read a statement.
"Speaking to all of Aruba, I want to say publicly that I am not proud of what happened on the 25th of December, and the manner I have behaved myself on the beach," Ponson said. "I want to publicly ask [the judge] to forgive me. I also want to apologize to the others involved in the incident."
Orioles pitchers and catchers will report to spring training on Feb. 19. Ponson will be there, but for those first two weeks, he'll have his trial hanging over his head. Then, he'll have to face his punishment while trying to improve upon last season, when he went 11-15 with a 5.30 ERA.
"I think he would like to put this behind him as quickly as possible," Flanagan said. "But I think the reality is, it's not going to go away."