JUPITER, Fla. -- Eleven days in an Aruban jail for punching a judge on Christmas Day didn't do it.
Neither did a drunken-driving charge in Florida a month later.
Pleas from his mother, the most influential person in his life, also failed to flip the switch.
Sidney Ponson didn't get it, didn't realize what he was doing to himself, his career or his inner circle of loved ones.
Then he was arrested for the third time in nine months.
In the early hours of Aug. 25, Ponson was charged with another DUI, this time in Baltimore, the city where he was once a favorite son.
Sitting in a holding cell that morning alone with his thoughts, the light, he says, finally clicked on.
The former Orioles starter, known for his lively fastball and faster lifestyle, decided it was time to seek help for alcohol abuse.
"I was sitting there and started thinking, `I'm doing it,'" Ponson said. "I got home at 5:30 that morning. I woke up at 7:30, called my mom and I told her. I called [agent Barry Praver] after that and told him to get me into the best place you could get me in, preferably in the West Coast where nobody can look for me or try to find me."
With that, Sidney Ponson disappeared.
The marketing geniuses in this upscale South Florida town call it ArtiGras, a weekend street fair each February that features paintings, sketches and sculptures for sale as well as live music, beer and food.
On Saturday morning, a band played blues; sharp aromas of soft pretzels and seafood dishes wafted into the air; and a barker implored fairgoers to eat sausages.
A couple hundred yards away at the adjacent Roger Dean Stadium baseball complex, artisans of a different ilk plied their craft. For the first time since losing the National League Championship Series to the Houston Astros, three members of the St. Louis Cardinals' league-leading staff threw in front of club officials.
On the fourth mound, just to the right of Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan, was the newest addition to the heralded rotation, a husky right-hander wearing baggy gray pants, a bright red Cardinals jersey and a look of determination.
This day represented a blank canvas of sorts for Ponson, he of the Mona Lisa right arm and Velvet Elvis career stats.
After the last arrest, the Orioles cut their troubled pitcher with one-plus year and more than $10 million remaining on a three-year, $22.5 million deal signed before the 2004 season. The move surprised Ponson, who spent all but two months of his 12-year career in the Orioles' organization.
"I knew I messed up, but I didn't think they were going to [release me]," said Ponson, who was a dreadful 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 2005. "I thought they probably would suspend me for the last month and then see if I seek help or whatever, but they decided to release me. And now it is over."
Not quite. Citing Ponson's alcohol dependency and legal troubles, the Orioles voided his contract, refusing to pay the balance of his guaranteed salary. The players' union, on behalf of Ponson, filed a grievance, which is still unsettled. An arbiter's hearing was scheduled for March, but legal wrangling may push it further into the spring.
While he waits for closure with the Orioles, Ponson is hoping to win a three-way battle with Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright to become the Cardinals' fifth starter.
"Hopefully, he'll go out and compete and win the fifth spot and help us out because you know he has the stuff to do it," said St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter. "With his stuff, if he can control his head, he's going to be a big-time guy in this league."
30 days of rehab
Ponson's climb back started in a Los Angeles-area rehabilitation clinic.
"I changed my name so nobody could find me. And I turned my phone off," he said. "It was good."
For a full month, he endured a strict regimen: Three hours of classes in the morning, an hour break and then more education.
"Thirty days, you're stuck with no alcohol, nothing. You're stuck talking about it. They show you pictures of what can happen, pictures of accidents and drinking and driving and all that stuff," said Ponson, 29. "Basically, you have a lot of time in class and a lot of time to think about if this is really worth it, if this is what you want to do."
Throughout his career, Ponson claimed he didn't care about other's opinions. Fans can boo, writers can criticize; it didn't matter. Yet there's an exception to his rule: his mother. She practically raised him on her own. She's his best friend, his confidant.
To disappoint her again, to make her weep after another mistake was too much.
"She's been telling me, `I think you've been doing things wrong too much, you've been doing this. You've been young, stupid' and I didn't listen," he said. "Then when you get boom, back-to-back-to-back trouble like that with alcohol in your system, it hits somewhere. I decided to [seek help] and I am happy about it."
He left rehab on Oct. 1. A few days later, his mother visited him in Florida.