FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 7 -- Baltimore Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson was scratched from Monday's scheduled start and will not be allowed to pitch in a game until visa problems associated with his court case in Aruba are resolved.
Ponson needs to obtain a P1 visa, which allows an athlete or entertainer to be compensated for work in the United States. On the advice of his counsel, Ponson won't apply for the P1 while assault charges are pending against him in his native country. He entered the country under a visa waiver program open to tourists from countries such as the Netherlands. Ponson holds a Dutch passport.
Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson's visa problems will have him observing action for a bit longer.
(Rick Bowmer - AP)
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"We were advised by counsel to wait until there was a final disposition of the of the legal issues in Aruba before he went to get his visa," said Barry Praver, Ponson's agent. "Our legal counsel told us it was most likely that immigration would want to see the disposition of the legal case."
On Sunday night, Praver, after conferring with one of Ponson's lawyers, determined the pitcher could be in violation of his visa waiver if he started Monday's game. During the offseason, Ponson acquires the waiver, which allows the holder to conduct business and travel to the United States for leisure for a 90-day period. However, a person with an I-94 waiver can't earn a salary in the United States.
Praver informed Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie of the situation Sunday night. They called the commissioner's office on Monday morning, and the commissioner's office in turn called immigration officials, who determined Ponson could not pitch in a game if admission was charged.
"I respect that," Ponson said. "I don't want to jeopardize my visa, either. I can wait. I put myself in that situation so I now have to deal with it. Hopefully we can get this squared away very soon."
Ponson was arrested on Christmas day in Aruba after an altercation in which he allegedly punched an Aruban judge in the face. He was charged with assault and jailed for 11 days. At a hearing last Thursday in Aruba, Judge Bob Wit postponed a ruling on the assault charges until May 10 in order to give Ponson time to reach an out-of-court settlement. Ponson also must perform 80 hours of community service and make a substantial charitable donation.
"Chris Lejuez [Ponson's attorney in Aruba] is presently working to satisfy all their terms and all their conditions," Praver said. "We don't anticipate it's going to be a problem, but we still have to do it."
It's possible that all the paperwork on a settlement could be completed this week, allowing Ponson -- the likely choice to be the Orioles' Opening Day starter -- to make his next scheduled spring start. But if the process drags on too long, it could throw the Orioles' rotation into disarray. Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said Monday that Ponson needs to face opposing hitters in a game situation.
"If it's three weeks it's not going to be good," Mazzilli said. "But we don't foresee that."
In order to make up for his missed start, Ponson threw 50 pitches in a simulated game.
"My arm feels good and that's most important right now," Ponson said after his outing. "We have big league hitters over here, and that's what I faced."
Ponson could apply for a P1 visa, even with a pending court case. But in order to obtain the work visa, he must meet with an official from a U.S. consulate and in that meeting, he must reveal the details of his court case. His representatives worried that the official could deny the visa request without a resolution to the case.
In order to meet with a U.S. consulate official, Ponson will have to miss another day of spring training in order to travel to a nearby country, likely the Dominican Republic, Belize, Venezuela or the Bahamas, depending on where he can get the earliest possible appointment. His paperwork is already complete.
All foreign-born players petition for a work visa prior to the start of spring training, and in some cases their arrivals in camp are delayed because of the process.