BELMAR, N.J. (AP) -- He signed autographs, sweet-talked star-struck women and even scored free food and drinks at bars and restaurants by claiming he was New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.
But in reality, he was 30-year-old Ryan Ward, a Toms River man who looks a lot like the Yankees star and claims he was just having fun.
Prosecutors weren't amused and had tried to put him in jail. But under the terms of a plea deal, Ward pleaded guilty Wednesday to reduced charges of disorderly conduct, was fined $2,518 and was placed on two years' probation.
"I had fun with it, and did a lot of things I probably shouldn't have done," he said outside the courtroom. "It got out of hand. I wasn't opening credit cards. This was just having fun with it."
Ward had faced theft-by-deception charges that could have brought a year in jail. He was allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges partly because he checked himself into an alcohol rehab facility for treatment of a drinking problem he says he has had since high school.
Virtually everyone who encounters Ward acknowledges he is the spitting image of Chamberlain, the Yankees pitcher whose high-octane fastball and fist-pumping strikeout celebrations made him an instant sensation when he joined the team in 2007.
"It's apparent that he could be the twin brother of Joba Chamberlain," said Belmar municipal prosecutor Stephen Schueler. "He bears an uncanny physical likeness to him."
And that's where Ward's problems began. People would come up to him and ask if he was Chamberlain. After so many inquiries, it became easy to just say yes and see how far he could go with it, Ward said.
"People were just star-struck, thinking I was him," Ward said. "It was easy to become him. It was a switch I could turn on and off, and I did often.
"People like to be in the presence of celebrity," said Ward, who said he was a "pretty good" pitcher as a teenager. "I always wore a Yankee hat, and I ran with it."
Patrons at bars and restaurants would send over free drinks and food to his table. He signed over 100 autographs, pretending to be Chamberlain.
Women were only too happy to spend time with him, thinking they were going home with a New York Yankee.
"There were many," Ward said.
What first got him in legal trouble was an Aug. 1 encounter at a bagel shop in which Ward asked employees "Do you know who I am?" and pointed to a photo of Chamberlain in a newspaper. They gave him free bagels and a bottle of water.
Other impersonations followed. Eventually, at least a few watering holes got wise and banned Ward from the premises. Then in October, he was arrested again, this time for yelling and carrying on while sitting on a bench outside a bar while intoxicated.
Two days later, Ward said, he checked himself into an alcohol-treatment facility. He said he recently celebrated 100 days of sobriety.
"I'm definitely making changes in my life for the better now," he said.
He apologized to the people he had scammed, particularly those who were hurt by the ruse.
As part of his probation, Ward must stay out of all the restaurants and bars in Belmar, and complete his alcohol treatment. He currently lives in a halfway house.
Chamberlain has declined to comment on the case, as have the Yankees.
Ward says the pitcher can rest easy.
"He doesn't have to worry about me any more," Ward said. "I'm just trying to be myself now."
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