PITTSBURGH - The search for a missing Alabama teenager in Aruba may seem to some like it's going on a world away from the Orioles' clubhouse, but not to Sidney Ponson.
The disappearance of Natalee Holloway has focused international attention on Ponson's home island, which depends heavily on its reputation as a safe, friendly vacation getaway to support its 72,000 citizens.
Ponson said yesterday that his first concern is the safety of the young woman who vanished May 30, and he checks in daily with family, friends and police contacts in Aruba to keep up on the situation. He also worries that the fallout from the incident could do long-term harm to the charming tourist destination.
"It's going to look like something like this happens all the time because it's on the news all day long," Ponson said, "but it's the first time anything like this has happened. It's a small island that depends on tourism. It really hurts.
"There is some crime there, but it's local crime ... a fight or somebody holds up a gas station. I was dumb enough to involve myself in something like that [the Christmas beach fight that landed him in jail for 11 days], but this is serious. This is an 18-year-old girl."
If you're inclined to be skeptical about the personal interest that Ponson has taken in the case, consider that the population of Aruba is considerably smaller than the population of some Maryland suburban communities.
"It's a nice, quiet place where everybody is waiting for five o'clock and you just want to chill," he said. "You have to wait and see what comes out of this. Nobody knows what happened. Hopefully, she'll be found safe."
Apparently, I put the reverse whammy on Sammy.
In his first at-bat since being dissected here yesterday, Sammy Sosa hit a mammoth shot into the left field bleachers last night and touched off a shower of Orioles home runs that would have carried Team Band-Aid to its fourth victory in a row if reliever Jorge Julio had not come unglued in the eighth inning.
It probably didn't hurt that Sosa was facing Pirates starter Dave Williams, who had faced Sosa 12 times previously and given up five home runs. I didn't know it was possible to throw a ball that straight, but Williams did it three more times - twice to reserve catcher Sal Fasano and once to Melvin Mora.
No more soup for Sammy, however. Williams walked him intentionally in his second plate appearance - which was quite a turnabout from the night before, when Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon ordered back-to-back intentional walks to Miguel Tejada to get to Sosa.
The Julio meltdown also forced manager Lee Mazzilli to use injured Brian Roberts as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. When Roberts flied out to right field, it ended his 20-game hitting streak. That's a heck of a way to end a run like that, but it couldn't be helped.
This Hayden Penn kid obviously is bad luck. Every time he pitches, the Orioles do just fine until he leaves the game.
Just thought this would be a good time to pass along a recent comment made by the Orioles' 2004 top draft choice, Wade Townsend - and culled from a story on MLB.com - after he was asked if he had any regrets about not signing with the Orioles.
"None at all. At this point, I'm thrilled to death," he said. "I'm super healthy. I can go with a better team. Whoever drafts me is a team I would like to be with over the team that drafted me last year. This year, I don't care where I go. When my name is called, I will be happy with whatever team takes me. I will be thrilled to death."
That's great, since he was chosen yesterday by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Final thought: It's awfully hard to find fault with the Pirates' 4-year-old ballpark, but I do have one complaint about PNC Park. The broadcast booths are up so high that you can barely make out Jim Hunter's pompons.