Ponson's opportunity may be his last
Veteran right-hander trying to recapture early career success
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sidney Ponson knows a thing or two about second chances.It's the type of experience a person gets only by not succeeding a time or two and that's exactly what has happened for Ponson over his career, both on and off the field. But second chances are limited. And even Ponson will agree that this latest opportunity with the Twins will likely be his final one. "This is it," Ponson said when he reported to Twins camp last Tuesday. "It's make or break my career this year. If I mess up this time, I don't think I'm going to get more chances." Second chances have been easy to come by for Ponson since his career started on a downturn after the 2004 season. Ponson, 30, was just a year removed from the best season of his career when things began to unravel. The troubles of Ponson's past are well documented. They began back on Christmas Day 2004, when the pitcher was arrested for an altercation with a judge on a beach in his native Aruba. He ended up spending 11 days in jail due to the charge. Ponson declared that he was a changed man after the experience, but his later actions spoke otherwise. Three weeks later, Ponson again found himself in trouble with the law as he was arrested for drunk driving in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was a move that didn't sit well with the Orioles who had inked Ponson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract before the '04 season. And when Ponson wasn't able to change his ways and was arrested again for drunken driving in August 2005, the Orioles terminated his contract. "Everybody puts themselves in harm's way or does something stupid at some time in their life," Ponson said. "Whatever you choose to do, you have to be responsible afterwards. That's the way it goes." After the last arrest, things went from bad to worse on the field for Ponson. In 2006, he suffered through the worst year of his career as he bounced between the Cardinals and Yankees organizations, amassing just a 4-5 record and a 6.25 ERA. Ponson was designated for assignment twice during the year and the season became a real reality check for the pitcher who once had been a top of the rotation guy. But now, Ponson is on a mission to return to his earlier form. After undergoing minor surgery this offseason to remove bone chips from his right pitching elbow, Ponson is ready for what will be the most important test that he's faced to date in his career.
He's trying to put the past behind him and instead, focus on the opportunity that awaits him with his newest organization.The Ponson that arrived at Twins camp wasn't about to back away from any criticism. He accepted blame for the things that had happened in the past and said that he altered his lifestyle this offseason to try and get back on the right track. He lost weight as he pushed himself during offseason workouts. He got engaged to his girlfriend of two years and most importantly, he kept himself out of the place where he feels most susceptible to problems -- Aruba. "I had to get away from the people that really know me back there," Ponson said. "Instead, I stayed in Florida for most of the offseason, worked out and spent time with my fiancé. I'm looking forward to that lifestyle [of being married]." It's that type of new attitude toward baseball and life that pitching coach Rick Anderson noticed right away when Ponson arrived for the group's first workout on Monday. Anderson knew that the mission of trying to get Ponson back on track would likely be more mental than mechanical. So one of the first things Anderson did after Ponson signed was to call the clubhouse managers and request that the pitcher's locker be next to Carlos Silva and Johan Santana at Spring Training. "Immediately the thing I saw Monday was that after we completed our 'pen, it was those three running together," Anderson said. "You can't ask for two better people for him to be with than Santana and Silva. Now it's just about keeping that enthusiasm and frame of mind. You don't lose your stuff overnight and I think for Sidney, it's just a matter of relaxing and not pressing too much." And Anderson's not the only one looking forward to what Ponson might bring to the staff. "I know it's been a couple years of tougher times for him but if he's right, he's a top of the rotation guy," said closer Joe Nathan, who was teammates with Ponson in San Francisco during the '03 season. "If he can be close to that, that's going to be a huge addition for us. With the loss of Francisco [Liriano] this year and Brad [Radke], he would be a huge help to be able to fill out the top of the order and eat up some innings for us." The opportunity to make the Twins club is what Ponson hopes will be the first of many good things to come in 2007. Ponson's wedding is scheduled for November and while that's something that he's eagerly awaiting, the pitcher first wants to accomplish a few other things on his list. "Hopefully I can come in, make the club and help this team win," Ponson said. "I feel like I'm ready for that. What this team wants is to have a parade in October so hopefully I can be a part of it."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.