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Continued: Starter starting over

Ponson remains extremely close to his mother. It was her pain, he said, that finally made him step back and seek help.

He was arrested three times over a nine-month span, including twice for drunken driving. He said his epiphany came while sitting in a Baltimore jail cell on Aug. 25, 2005.

"To put my mom and family through the hurt that I caused them, with the one [arrest] in Aruba, and the one in Baltimore again ... enough's enough. "I said, that's over with and checked myself into rehab."

Ponson spent 30 days under an assumed name in a Malibu, Calif., treatment center. He said it opened his eyes, seeing stories of countless people who died in alcohol-related crashes.

Now, he said, he gets a ride any time he's out and has a drink.

"I mean, thank God I never hit somebody or hurt somebody," he said. "I would have been killed soon. I was going downhill. I started drinking more and more and more. My way of thinking about things was just getting hammered."

The Orioles voided the final year of Ponson's three-year, $22.5 million contract, citing his alcohol issues and legal problems.

• • •

The most infamous moment came Christmas Day, 2004, when Ponson got into an altercation on an Aruban beach. Ponson had been riding a wave runner with friends, and when complaints led to a fight, he hit a man, who happened to be a judge.

Ponson spent 11 days in jail. The saga was front-page news in Aruba.

Just one year earlier, Ponson had been knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Aruba is part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, and Sir Sidney is one of only three Arubans to reach the major leagues.

Ponson's popularity back home took a hit.

"There are always going to be people who are mad at him, but 95 percent of the people there love him," said Chu Halabi, a baseball scout who mentored Ponson and signed him with the Orioles in 1993. "Every game he pitches is on TV. For everything he's done wrong, he's done 1,000 things right, or good for people."

Halabi said Ponson routinely sends checks back to Aruba to pay youth baseball expenses, never seeking publicity.

Ponson remembers having his own big-league dreams. At age 11, he told Halabi he was going to be the next Roger Clemens.

"I'll show you; you'll come back and sign me," Halabi remembers Ponson telling him.

Sure enough, by the time Ponson was 15, he could throw his fastball 86 miles per hour. Halabi helped refine his mechanics, and six years later Ponson reached the majors with a fastball that could reach 98 mph.

• • •

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