Ponson looks forward to fresh start

Ponson looks forward to fresh start

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals introduced their latest acquisition on Wednesday, but it wasn't a typical new free agent conference call.

Sidney Ponson and general manager Walt Jocketty fielded the usual questions about how Ponson will fit on the St. Louis roster, but there was more to it. And perhaps more notable than the queries about Ponson's newfound sobriety was how matter-of-fact he was about it.

Ponson, who was released by the Orioles last September after his third arrest in a year, checked himself into alcohol rehabilitation soon after the incident. He hasn't had a drink since. Now he's looking to get his career kick-started in the same manner that he's turned around his life. Ponson signed a one-year contract, filled with incentives, to pitch for St. Louis in hopes of finding the form that he displayed as recently as 2003.

"After my last problems in the past, I sought help for myself," Ponson said from his native Aruba. "I didn't wait for anybody to push me. I did it on my own. I talked to my mom and my mom wanted me to do that. That was a big help. That was the hardest thing to do, was look my mom in the face and see how much it hurt her.

"Since the last time I had trouble, I've been clean since. I haven't had one drop of alcohol. I feel really good. I'm healthy and I'm in good shape. I'm working hard and getting myself ready for baseball season."

Following the departure of Matt Morris via free agency, rookie Anthony Reyes was projected as the Cardinals' fifth starter. However, Ponson will give Reyes a run for the spot and provide an extra option for manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to consider in Spring Training.

"Obviously with Carpenter, Mulder, Marquis, Suppan and Reyes and now Ponson, we've got six starters for five spots," Jocketty said. "I think the idea is to go to Spring Training and have a competition and see. What it does is, it does provide some insurance if we feel that Anthony's not ready, but I think that Anthony Reyes will be a part of our, should be a part of our pitching staff at some point this year."

Ponson entertained offers from Texas and Seattle as well as St. Louis, but he said the Cards were his first choice.

"My agent told me that I had a chance to go to St. Louis, and I was so happy and excited," Ponson said. "It's great. That's the place I wanted to go in the first place. I have a chance. I'm really thankful that they gave me a second chance and I'm looking forward to making the most out of it."

Jocketty faced more questions than Ponson on the call. The Cardinals have a reputation as an image-conscious team, concerned with the character of their players as well as ability.

In addition to a pair of drunk driving arrests, Ponson spent time in an Aruban jail for an incident in which he punched a judge on a beach. But Jocketty expressed confidence that Ponson would not pose a problem.

"No. 1, as you'll find as you get to know Sidney, he's a very personable young man, very fun to be around," said Jocketty. "He's a guy we just felt very comfortable with when we met down in Florida and felt that he was very sincere in his wanting to turn things around. It was his idea to seek help and he has been on the straight and narrow ever since.

"There's always a risk. We know that, he knows that. But you have to at some point have faith in people and give them an opportunity and we feel that Sidney has warranted that."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.