Nothing's changed about Ponson

ON BASEBALL

March 17, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Different uniform and different hairstyle. Same old Sidney Ponson.

The Prodigal Right-hander was back at Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday, happily greeting old teammates, taking jabs at Orioles fans and stiffing the Baltimore media. It was like old times, except he now has a thick dark mullet, wears the Minnesota Twins stripes and hasn't posed for a mug shot in months.

OK, so the requisite cheap shot aimed at the Troubled Aruban has been fired. That's the last flippant rip for today. About him, anyway. He fires off one about you, Orioles fans. It'll hit you between the eyes.

You see, Sir Sid was booed a little yesterday when he took the mound for the visiting Twins. He pitched well in his second spring start, giving up one run in four innings and picking up a 16-2 win against the organization in which he spent a dozen years. It probably went a long way toward cementing Ponson a spot in a depleted starting rotation.

But some Orioles fans booed; it's their right, considering his fall from grace two seasons ago that included two DUIs (to pump his career mark to three), a Christmas punchout of an Aruban judge and a mild restaurant altercation with a patron, all within the period of nine months. To be fair, some Orioles fans also cheered Ponson. At least two women walked the concourse in "No. 43 Ponson" Orioles T-shirts. So he still has his fans and his detractors. Chances are he'll have more of the latter, though, after Orioles fans read what he told Minnesota reporters about the smattering of jeers.

"They booed me when I was playing there. It doesn't bother me. Baltimore fans have no clue what baseball is all about," Ponson said. "The old Baltimore fans over on 33rd Street [Memorial Stadium], that's true baseball fans. "[The Camden Yards fans] were booing me the last two years. It doesn't matter. I could be pitching a good game and give up a run in the eighth and they would boo me. It doesn't hurt my feelings."

It'd be nice to relay the look on his face when he said all this - Ponson is a jokester, after all - but that's not possible since he refused to talk with the Baltimore media. In fact, he wouldn't have talked to the Minnesota media, either, if any Baltimore representatives had demanded to stay. Because that's Sidney. Because just when you want to root for him, just when you think the bitterness has passed and maybe the guy has grown up, he again flashes his well-honed immaturity.

"I don't want the [Baltimore] media to know nothing about what's going on with me. I don't like them," he said. "I didn't like the last two years over there, so I didn't talk to them the last two years over there."

Truth is Ponson, now 30, was once a media darling in Baltimore. He's funny, self-deprecating and brutally honest. A reporter's dream. But the more he struggled, the more sensitive he became. And then, during spring training 2005, it was discovered that Ponson had gotten a DUI while wintering in Florida, just weeks after he was jailed for beating up the Aruban judge. His response: to curse the reporter who broke the story.

His rationale was that if it hadn't been reported, the Orioles organization would never have known. That's pretty much when the media became his bane. That's pretty much when those around him knew accountability wasn't his strength. Yet, his teammates have always stood behind him.

"I pray for him to be OK, not only off the field, but to make another team," Orioles veteran Jay Gibbons said yesterday. "He is by far one of my favorite teammates I ever had. The guy went out on a limb for you anytime, had your back always."

Ponson had his clubhouse supporters when the Orioles dumped him in September 2005 and refused to pay him the remaining $11.2 million on his three-year, $22.5 million deal - a dispute that still isn't settled.

And there were plenty of people in his corner when he joined the St. Louis Cardinals last spring (he was released in July after posting a 5.24 ERA) and when he was picked up by the New York Yankees later that season (he lasted five weeks and was cut again). His third round of second chances comes with the Twins, and was doled out by the squeaky-clean Terry Ryan, perhaps baseball's best general manager.

"We needed starting pitching and he is trying to re-establish himself," Ryan said. "It's obvious this is a big spring for him. We've got opportunity and he is looking for a spot to land."

Don't think Ryan didn't have concerns about his past, though. "It's certainly a part of his resume and it's not anything he or we should forget," Ryan said. "We're hoping that is behind him as well."

He's been a model citizen so far. At least until yesterday, when he ripped the media that once covered him and the fans who once paid his bloated salary. Apparently, all the things that caused his tenuous relationship with Baltimore and the Orioles' organization still weren't his fault. That's his opinion. That's his immaturity.

That's Sidney Ponson. And that, apparently and sadly, isn't changing.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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