Ponson relieved to put Aruba in past

Expected trial settlement returns his focus to O's

March 05, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With a cup of coffee in his hand and the usual mischievous grin on his face, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson was back in his element.

He returned to camp yesterday knowing that the worst was behind him, that he wouldn't serve any more jail time related to his Christmas Day arrest in Aruba. He could begin concentrating on baseball again, just as he has tried to do since the start of spring training.

A judge postponed the assault case on Thursday, giving Ponson until May to reach an out-of-court settlement. Ponson said he expects a resolution to come within the next 10 days.

He has already been ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, which will be determined by the prosecutor, and to make a sizable donation to a local charity. That should be the end of it.

"I don't have a problem with that. I've been doing that before," he said. "I'm up for anything. I'll do it and get it over with so I can forget about this."

The three assault charges could have brought a sentence of four years, but Judge Bob Wit took into account how a criminal record might result in Ponson losing his work visa.

"I was relieved," Ponson said. "It could have gone worse. I was in limbo. I didn't know what he was going to do. In the end, when he said that, I was happy."

The hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours and was attended by Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan, Ponson's lawyer, Chris Lejuez, his agent, Barry Praver, and agent Scott Shapiro, an immigration attorney. Because the prosecutor spoke Dutch, an interpreter was provided.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos wrote a letter on Ponson's behalf, and Wit also noted Flanagan's presence.

"Ever since this began on Dec. 25, the Orioles have been incredibly supportive of Sidney," Praver said.

Wit flew in from Curacao to give the appearance of impartiality. The judge who was struck during the altercation is from Aruba.

After leaving the courthouse, Ponson took his mother and sister to lunch, packed and returned to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He'll continue to work out with the team before making his first start on Monday.

"It could have gotten worse," he said. "The thing is still not completely done yet. I'm still waiting for a couple of things to be done and I can get this in the past and forget about it.

"I'll keep saying it to you guys - I'm sorry about what happened. It's one of those things you have to deal with and I'm glad it's over with and I can focus on baseball."

Said Praver: "This has been a real life-altering situation for Sidney."

Because Lejuez hadn't been told anything in advance, the tension built for Ponson as he awaited Wit's decision.

"Most of the time the prosecutor and lawyer talk about what they're going to do in court, but he didn't want to talk to my lawyer," Ponson said.

"I was a little bit nervous. I'd rather pitch in front of 50,000 people than go in front of a judge. One person, not 50,000. That's not good. I'm definitely going to work my butt off not to ever get in front of a judge."

The next step in the legal process involves having Lejuez and the prosecutor draft an agreement and send a letter to Wit, at which point the charges will be dismissed. Ponson isn't required to make a return trip.

"Going into it, we heard whispers about the possibilities. His immigration status might have gotten to the point where he wasn't allowed to come back to the States," executive vice president Jim Beattie said.

"It's not totally settled. ... But it seems like it can be worked out now to everybody's satisfaction."

Ponson was accused of punching a local judge on the beach after a group of people complained about the pitcher's behavior.

"After court he was sitting there. I said, `I'm sorry.' I apologized to him personally, shook his hand," Ponson said.

"He said, `It's in the past.' One thing he told me was, `We didn't do this to ruin your career.'"

In an attempt to control his temper, Ponson has chosen to attend 27 hours of anger management counseling. For years, friends and colleagues have been preaching the importance of avoiding confrontations. He's finally ready to listen.

"I still have to go to a couple of sessions," he said. "I want to get more details about it so I can help friends and stuff like that. I want to do some more."

Said Beattie: "I think when someone goes through what Sidney's gone through and he recognizes that maybe I would like someone else to help me with this whole process and he reaches out and gets something like that, that's always a benefit.

"Some of these skill sets that people would need to deal with certain situations, if they haven't developed through childhood, then you've got to be able to find them someplace. I think it's a big plus."

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