Posted Online: March 31, 2010, 2:34 pm

A star ballplayer's reversal of fortune

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CARPENTERSVILLE, Ill. (AP) On baseball diamonds in Arizona and Florida this week, major leaguers and the prospects who hope to join them someday are putting themselves through final preparations for the long season as Opening Day draws near.

Not too long ago, Juan Acevedo was among them, fine-tuning the pitching skills that earned him an eight-year career in the majors and nearly $4.5 million in total big-league salary.

Now, however, the Carpentersville resident and former Dundee-Crown High School star is a long way from the days he saved 28 games for the Detroit Tigers or wore the pinstripes of the New York Yankees.

Today, the 39-year-old Acevedo is locked up in the McHenry County jail, serving a six-month contempt of court sentence for violating the financial terms of his 2007 divorce settlement.

The Huntley home his ex-wife and three children live in is facing foreclosure. Court records show he owes about $44,000 in credit card debt, $12,000 from a failed restaurant venture, $6,000 to cell phone providers and another $4,500 to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Instead of sharing a clubhouse with the likes of Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, he's in a jailhouse with alleged killers, rapists and robbers.

'He's had reversal of fortune,' said Acevedo's attorney, George Mueller.

It is a reversal borne from a confluence of events: the sudden end to a prosperous baseball career, an acrimonious divorce, a crash in the housing market and the catastrophic failure of a business venture.

For those who knew Acevedo as the talented right-hander who compiled an 8-0 record as a senior at Dundee-Crown or as a young major league reliever who compiled a 15-10 mark in his first three seasons in the bigs, where he is today comes as nothing less than a shock.

Fred Bencriscutto, who coached Acevedo for four years at Dundee-Crown, described his former player as very intelligent, not the type to fall prey to the financial woes that hit so many ex-jocks when their careers are over.

'I always thought that Juan pretty much had it figured out as far as his financial life was concerned,' Bencriscutto said. 'This was not a guy who would make the kind of mistakes to end up like this.'

After a high school career that would earn him a place in Dundee-Crown's Athletic Hall of Fame, Acevedo went on to pitch in junior college before being drafted in 1992 by the Colorado Rockies. He was in the majors three years later, the start of a tenure that would see him pitch for eight clubs over eight seasons.

In early 2002, just before what arguably was his most successful season, Acevedo married Sonja Ptach, with whom he would have three children. But just two seasons later, he was out of the majors completely and pitching for Monterrey of the Mexican League, earning about $5,000 a month for the five-month season, court records state.

After that 2005 season, Ptach filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences and mental cruelty. As part of a 2007 divorce settlement, Acevedo was ordered to pay off the mortgage on the Huntley home his wife received under the agreement.

Instead, Mueller said, Acevedo invested $300,000 in a new East Dundee restaurant called Abanazz. The business opened in the spring of 2008, but it shut its doors just months later in what Mueller termed 'a catastrophic failure.' About the same time, real estate holdings Acevedo had accumulated during his career were declining in value or going into foreclosure.

'It wiped him out. He thought he was going to have a new career as a restaurant owner and it failed,' Mueller said. 'It wasn't just a failure. It was a black hole that sucked everything away with it.'

The failure, combined with his loss of earning potential as a professional athlete, left Acevedo unable to pay off the Huntley mortgage as ordered. In October, McHenry County Judge Martin Zopp gave him a choice: Pay off the $250,000 mortgage or its $35,000 arrearage by Dec. 1 or go to jail for six months. When Acevedo couldn't find the funds to make the payments, Zopp sent him to jail for a term that won't end until May 29.

'It's really shocking,' Bencriscutto said when told of his former player's incarceration. 'It seems unfair that someone would have to go to jail for six months because he couldn't pay a divorce settlement.'

Ptach said the mortgage situation has been a 16-month ordeal, likening it to spinning in a revolving door and getting nowhere.

'The house is the only asset I received out of the divorce,' she said. 'I feel like he just thought he could get away with not complying.'

Acevedo was back in court last week, asking Zopp to let him out early so he could pursue another opportunity to pitch in the Mexican League. Zopp denied the request, a decision Mueller found perplexing given that it was his client's best chance of making a financial contribution for his ex-wife and children.

'If he had the funds, he would pay (the mortgage),' Mueller said. 'Nobody wants to sit in jail.'