FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 10 -- It only took a few phone calls from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos for Sidney Ponson to acquire his work visa, allowing the pitcher to start Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ponson had been scheduled to make his spring debut on Monday against the Florida Marlins. He was a late scratch because he had not acquired the necessary papers due to his pending court case in Aruba.
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Angelos made several calls on Ponson's behalf, enabling the pitcher to schedule an appointment at the U.S. consulate in the Dominican Republic on Thursday morning, according to Barry Praver, Ponson's agent. Ponson flew to the Dominican Republic after Wednesday's Orioles workout in Fort Lauderdale.
Though Ponson's court case has not been dismissed, the consulate was notified that a settlement was imminent and the pitcher's visa was approved, Praver said.
"First of all, we would like to thank Peter Angelos in his assistance in expediting this matter," Praver said. "Needless to say the State Department did not make us privy to their decision-making process but I suspect they took notice of the imminent dismissal of the charges against Sidney in Aruba. Peter definitely assisted in expediting the matter. As for the nature of his assistance, I didn't ask him."
Angelos is a highly respected trial lawyer with extensive contacts in Washington. "I just know that at a point where it looked like a lot of things had to happen before it was going to work, Peter got involved," Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said. "He made some phone calls or tried to find out how he could help the process along."
Angelos did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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 week in Aruba, a judge 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.
"My understanding is in talking with Chris Lejuez, Sidney's lawyer in Aruba, is that all of the conditions for the prerequisite for the dismissal in Aruba should be in place by today or tomorrow at the latest," Praver said.
Ponson entered the country under a visa waiver program open to tourists from countries such as the Netherlands. Ponson holds a Dutch passport. But he is required to have a P-1 visa, which allows athletes and entertainers to work in the United States, before he can pitch in a game in which admission is charged.
"The ordeal is over with," Ponson said. "I can put this behind me and concentrate on baseball and go forward and not wonder what happened in the past. Hopefully you guys won't bring this up anymore. I was surprised because I didn't know how long it was going to go. Peter helped us a lot. And everybody was supportive of me."
Beattie said Baltimore was on the verge of sending Ponson to the team's minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla., to participate in an intrasquad game on Sunday or Monday so he could get some pitching in. Ponson pitched in a simulated game on Monday.
"You start to think about some contingency plans," Beattie said. "We're very happy we didn't have to stick with that."
"Obviously we're very happy that Sidney has his work visa," Praver said. "He wasn't able to start the game on Monday. That was the last impediment on him being able to focus on the season."
Ponson is still a candidate to pitch the season opener April 4 against the Oakland A's, though Rodrigo Lopez appears to be the favorite.