- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Sidney Ponson pitched most of last season for the Baltimore Orioles without complaining of pain in his right arm.
But he could have, and he probably should have.
"It started in spring training, but I didn't tell anybody," Ponson said of the tendinitis in his forearm and elbow. "I just pitched through it, sucked it up and hoped the pain would go away. It never did."
Ponson's hesitance to notify the Orioles of his ailment (he finally caved in Aug. 28 and wound up not pitching again) resulted in the worst season of his professional career, not to mention plenty of speculation about the 25-year-old's future with the club.
"I'm so stubborn that I kept telling everybody I wasn't hurt when I was," he said. "I learned my lesson. If something's wrong, I'll go in there and tell them. I'd rather lose one or two starts than the rest of the season."
Ponson ultimately missed the last five weeks of the season with the injury, but by that point 2001 was lost. A season that was supposed to see Ponson finally shed the "potential" label and establish himself as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher turned into a 5-10 nightmare.
And that leaves the fifth-year veteran (yes, veteran despite his young age) looking to revamp his career in 2002.
"I really want to take the next step," Ponson said. "I had a bad season last year. This year I'm not going to let that happen."
The book on Ponson throughout his Orioles career is that he has the physical tools to be a great pitcher but lacks the discipline and motivation to make it happen. Though he owns a less-than-spectacular 34-44 career record, his 15 complete games over the last three years are the fourth most in baseball behind Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and David Wells.
The man who arrived at Fort Lauderdale Stadium last week appears to have matured and to understand that this may be his last chance to make it with this club.
"I think Sidney needs to do that," manager Mike Hargrove said. "And I think he's aware of it."
Said Ponson: "I have to prove to myself that I can pitch in this league. Everything's on me."
As evidence of his newfound commitment to baseball, Ponson spent the winter undergoing an intense workout regime despite shuttling back and forth between Baltimore and his home in Aruba. He reportedly shed 20 pounds from his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame and reported to Fort Lauderdale in what Hargrove termed "as good of shape as he's ever been in."
The realization that baseball is now a year-round sport, requiring year-round conditioning, doesn't come at the same time in every player's career.
"You pound it into them," Hargrove said, "but you know the old saying: 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.' Some get it a lot quicker than others."
Ponson spent the winter trying to get himself in better shape, but he also spent much of that time unsure of what uniform he would be wearing this season. He has long been one of the Orioles' most sought-after players, and inevitably every trade offer made to vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift includes Ponson.
Among the deals that were in the works at one time or another this winter: Ponson to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Gabe Kapler; Ponson to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Dmitri Young; and Ponson as part of a five-player package to the Philadelphia Phillies for third baseman Scott Rolen.
"I heard about it, but I didn't worry too much," he said. "If it was going to happen, it was going to happen. I'm just happy to be here."
And to remain here. Though Ponson has as much trade value as anyone on the Orioles' roster, the club has been reluctant to deal a pitcher who still has potential.
"It's easy to get impatient and trade, but we owe it to ourselves and to Sidney …" Thrift said. "He's worked hard since September to improve his physical condition, and I truly believe that's the key to his development."
Ponson is pleased by the vote of confidence:
"That tells me they still believe in me," he said, "that I can be a great pitcher here."
And rest assured that should Ponson feel even the slightest twinge in his arm this year, the Orioles training staff will be the first to know.
"I realize that now," he said. "Hopefully I won't be dumb enough to do that again."
Note Comcast SportsNet will increase its Orioles TV coverage to 92 games this season. The broadcast team will be Michael Reghi, Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan. There will also be pregame and postgame shows.


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