Daniel Ponce de Leon: There’s a few times where baseball’s broken me in half. And you know, you get [up] and you do this or that. And for me, it was, “Go to the Lord,” and I’m able to hang my head on that. I come back the next day and I feel fresh, feel new again.
God Is Just a Prayer Away: Daniel Ponce de Leon & Lanny West – Episode #293
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When you feel broken and lost, and the life you want seems far from reach, there’s Someone you can turn to. God is just a prayer away and no matter where you are or what life circumstance has laid you low, you can call His name. He listens. He cares. He’s there for you always. Our guests this week have had times in their lives of complete brokenness—and they found that when they whispered a prayer up to heaven, peace, comfort, and restoration were never far behind. We’re talking with baseball pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals Daniel Ponce De Leon, and musician and founder of Tipping Point Artist Wellness Lanny West.
Let’s start with Daniel’s story.
Daniel Ponce de Leon: My name is Daniel Ponce de Leon, and I’m from La Mirada, California. I grew up there for eighteen years of my life until I went to college, bounced around to four different colleges, ended up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014, and made it to the big leagues in 2018.
Daniel’s Path to Professional Baseball
Growing up I played three sports. My dad coached me in most of them: football, basketball, and baseball. And my passion was always football. I was a quarterback in high school. But as I was playing and going on, baseball seemed to be the future. The more scouts came and watched me and better offers came as a baseball player.
And not only was I playing Little League, I was also playing travel ball, and travel ball is during football season. I did not like that. It was just too much for me, and I wanted to just play football. And I told my dad I didn’t want to play anymore, he said, “Just stick it out, we’ll just stick to one time a year.” And that was way better for me and gave me a clear mind.
I ended up getting a nice scholarship after my senior year in high school to the University of Arizona. I had a bit of a problem there. I only pitched three innings and did not get along there. The coaches ended up cutting my scholarship the summer after that season. And that’s when I had to transfer to Cypress Junior College in Southern California and had a good season there, and then ended up signing to the University of Houston. I went over there, started there, and ended up getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
And that year, I wanted to go to Tucson to play some minor league baseball and ended up failing a physical before I even started. And the NCAA deemed me a professional, so I lost my amateur status. So then I had a transfer again to a different college and then ended up at Embry-Riddle, which was an NAIA school at the time. And that’s where the St. Louis Cardinals found me.
A Devastating Injury Produces a Change of Heart
Since the start, I’ve been up and down in the big leagues and minor leagues many times, and you know, there’s a lot of highs, a lot of lows. There are a few times where baseball’s broken me in half.
May 9, 2017, it was a day game, Kid’s Day. I got through the first inning. The second inning comes around and I’m facing Victor Caratini. He’s a left-handed hitter. And my catcher, Rosario, asks for a fastball down away. So at the time, I was throwing sinkers, two-seam, so the ball’s supposed to go down and sink away from the hitter. Well, this one stayed straight, Caratini lined it right back up the middle, and I went to turn out of the way and didn’t get out of the way in time. It hit me right in the temple on my right side and probably knocked me out for a few seconds.
I do remember everyone running up and talking to me. My trainer’s kneeling over me, and he’s asking me questions about what’s my name, what year is it, simple questions that I’m able to answer. And I got them all correct. But the way I was answering, he did not like it. So he called over the ambulance, and they had the stretcher come over, and they lifted me up and put me on. And I told them, like, “Why are we doing this? I’m fine.” Growing up I played football, I’ve had stingers and kind of been knocked out-ish a bit—you don’t really understand how bad the injury is at the time.
So during my injury, once I got into the ambulance, that’s when I started to recognize, like, You know what? This might be a little bit worse than I thought. And once I get into the hospital, that’s when my memory starts getting a little bit splotchy. I remember throwing up on the nurses, them cutting my pants, and then one of the last memories of them shaving my head with some not very good clippers. And then after that, I’m sitting in bed talking to my dad.
And then he’s talking to me, and I go right away, “Hey, can you come over here real quick and just pray over me?” And he was like, “Yeah.” He came over me and hugged me and prayed over me, and I’ll tell you that was very comforting, having your dad pray over you. Made me feel like a kid again, you know, like my dad was over there shielding me from something.
My injury was an epidural hematoma. It’s a bleed between the membrane of the brain and the skull. So they had to remove my skull and stop the bleeding and also relieve some pressure in my brain because my brain had shifted now. And if they didn’t do that, then I would get some brain damage. Once that died down, they were able to put the skull back on, close me up, and hope that it wouldn’t re-swell because if it were to swell again, I would have significant disabilities, and thankfully it did not. They were worried that I was going to die at first and then after that, they worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, and eat again.
So for a brain to recover is a lot different than having to rehab an arm or leg or something. You can do exercise and stuff for that. For a brain, you can’t do anything besides rest. And so the whole goal was to rest so my brain shift will go back to normal, because I had about eight millimeters shifted, and I needed that to go back to normal before I even resumed any sort of activity. So I go home and you know, you don’t really want to watch TV, so I spent a lot of time reading.
My dad was a very big part in teaching me the Word [growing up], and every morning, he was up reading. So he’d talk to me about it, and I didn’t really understand most of the things. Later on in my life as I read the Bible, all the words that he told me started coming together, and I started to understand that even more.
“My dad was a very big part in teaching me the Word [growing up], and every morning, he was up reading. So he’d talk to me about it, and I didn’t really understand most of the things. Later on in my life as I read the Bible, all the words that he told me started coming together, and I started to understand that even more.” – Daniel Ponce de Leon
Faith in my life now is something essential. You know, I read daily, I have a daily reading that I follow, and on good days, bad days, I need God, especially the bad days.
“On good days, bad days, I need God.” – Daniel Ponce de Leon
Jesus Calling, January 4th:
I WANT YOU TO LEARN A NEW HABIT. Try saying, “I trust You, Jesus,” in response to whatever happens to you. If there is time, think about who I Am in all my Power and Glory; ponder also the depth and breadth of My Love for you.
This simple practice will help you see Me in every situation, acknowledging My sovereign control over the universe. When you view events from this perspective—through the Light of My universal Presence—fear loses its grip on you. Adverse circumstances become growth opportunities when you affirm your trust in Me no matter what.
The second part of the plan of recovery was to help my body heal itself. So I started looking into that, and what I found was that if your body is healthy, you will be able to focus its attention on what needs to be healed. So I started looking into gut health and started drinking superfood greens, taking some high-level fish oil, probiotics, and all sorts. I changed the whole diet and everything, and I was able to heal the brain. In three months, my shift was gone, and at the three-month mark, I was able to resume activity in baseball and weightlifting.
Near-death experience, that’s what it took—it literally took a hit on the head [for me to hear God say], “Hey, I’m here. You know, you need to get this right.” And I believe the whole journey that He put me through was different ways of God chastening me. You know, it says in the Bible, God will chasten you like a dad chastens his son and, “I’m going in this direction.” “Nope, go this way.” “I’m going this direction.” “Go this way,” you know? And I still wasn’t paying attention here. He had me bounce around all these different colleges still wasn’t paying attention. So He finally said, “Wham! Wake up!” “Man, I’m awake.”
“I believe the whole journey that He put me through was different ways of God chastening me.” – Daniel Ponce de Leon
Getting Back on the Mound
My first time back on the mound, as a pitcher, you have to be in attack mode. If you’re on the mound and you’re having these thoughts, these doubts in your mind, bad stuff is going to happen. You know, that’s when line drives start coming back up the middle. It’s called conviction in your pitch.
And I was able to pray, and I asked Him for some peace and calmness. And when I got out onto the mound, that was what I would call one of the most peaceful games of my career. I don’t know how or why, but there was a calm over me, and I was able to go out and nothing outside of me and the catcher fazed me. It was just me and [him] the whole time. It was a good day. And, you know, I was able to pitch seven innings, no hits.
I would tell you, I felt blessed at the time and not only for myself, but it was kind of a reward for everyone that was around me, you know, for my dad, my mom, my sisters, my wife now, my kids and even my agent who I consider family, Brian Grieper. They’re all backing me up the whole entire time. And it was nice, you know, it was nice to do it together.
I’m using my baseball talents to spread the gospel and I’m able to talk with people and see their connection, their walk with God, and hopefully bring them closer and hopefully just bring us all as a church closer.
“I’m using my baseball talents to spread the gospel and I’m able to talk with people and see their connection, their walk with God, and hopefully bring them closer and hopefully just bring us all as a church closer.” – Daniel Ponce de Leon
Narrator: You can find Daniel’s book, One Line Drive: A Life-Threatening Injury and a Faith-Fueled Comeback, wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Lanny West’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: Our next guest is a former music executive and founder of Tipping Point Artist Wellness Lanny West. Lanny had a rough start in life, dealing with emotional, physical, and verbal abuse in a household that he describes as “godless.” That led to an early alcohol addiction that snowballed into other types of addictions, fueled by his lifestyle in the music industry. Lanny eventually reached his breaking point, when he remembers listening to contemporary Christian music in his kitchen, and God broke through his walls and began to heal his heart.
Lanny West: My name is Lanny West, and I am a number of things. I’m first of all, a disciple of Christ. I’m an author, a chef, an entrepreneur, an encourager, a connector, a farmer, a beekeeper, a raccoon trapper, a father, and a husband. I’m the founder of Tipping Point Artist Wellness and also Bring It All to the Table Ministry, which we do out at our farm.
Seeking to Escape a Troubled Family Life
My growing-up years were very tumultuous. I was born on an army base in Virginia. My birth father was in the military. I did not know him until later years. And, you know, we moved around. My mother was married several times and we lived in a godless, Bibleless household.
My first experience with church as a family, we lived right across the street from the Methodist church, and we went in and sat in this pew—I remember exactly the left section of pews, the fourth pew—and we sat down as a family, and the ushers came over and moved us because that’s where this prominent family sat every Sunday. And so we were asked to move to another location then. That really didn’t sit well with me, even at a young age.
And so I had a very skewed view of church and religion, and we rarely ever went to church and really never talked about any of that in our household. And growing up, I was bullied a lot. I was sexually molested by an older boy that was the son of a close family of ours and never said anything about it. I hid it away.
What dreams I had were based around music. I was fortunate to be able to take piano lessons, and I played every brass instrument in the high school band except the trombone and the French horn. And I gravitated to music via the radio, and I found that I was able to escape listening to the lyrics of these songs. And like many people that are my age, The Beatles were certainly prominent, but I also listened to a lot of R&B music, The Staple Singers and Otis Redding and those kinds of things. But the lyrics and songs helped me to be able to escape this tumultuous life that I was living. My mother was married several times, and the guys she was married to were either physical abusers or mental abusers. My home was not a place that I wanted to be, so I got to escape through music.
As I got a little bit older, I gravitated to wanting to be a DJ and being on the radio to play that kind of music. I started working at a radio station when I was in the twelfth grade, and it gave me the opportunity not to be at home and to do what I really liked doing, playing music. I became quite good at picking hits in my later years. And so my dream was to escape the turmoil and the abuse within my family. I just was trying to figure out how the heck to get out of that mess because nothing was getting better.
It came to a head where I almost killed my stepfather and my mother stopped me from doing that. If she hadn’t, I probably would be in prison today.
This guy was really a bad guy, and a friend of mine and I decided to run away from home. So at about age seventeen, we moved to Atlanta, lived in a house with fifteen other people. And to make extra money, TBS had a dance show kind of like the Dick Clark dance show. And so we would go and get paid $25 a day to go dance. And that was just so exciting for me because it was part of music, but I had to escape. I had to get out of the craziness in my household, the abuse and the beatings that I would get on a regular basis, and I never really looked back.
”My dream was to escape the turmoil and the abuse within my family. And I just was trying to figure out how the heck to get out of that mess because nothing was getting better.” – Lanny West
The Progression into Addiction
My addiction started off with alcohol. My mother and stepfather, who was a doctor, they did social events at the house, a lot of parties, and my mother thought it was very cute and cool to have the boys. So me, my brother, and my younger stepbrother—we would dress up in suits and wait tables, and we would serve food and we would set the tables, and it was my mother showing off that we had some manners. At the end of these little parties, we would start clearing tables and taking things back to the kitchen. I started sampling some of the leftover wines and alcohols that were there, and it really made me feel good. It progressed to the point where I started stealing bottles of liquor out of my parents’ liquor cabinet, and I quickly found that in drowning myself in alcohol, I could escape what was going on for a brief period of time. And it made me a different person. It brought my personality out and I became more of a show person.
By the time I was fifteen, sixteen years old, I was an alcoholic. I was drinking every day and how I didn’t get caught and how I didn’t kill somebody is only by the grace of God. I know that now, but it continued and increased with drinking and partying as I got older.
And as I got deeper into the entertainment world and working in radio, cocaine became a big issue in the seventies. Cocaine was rampant in the music industry. We would go to conventions and go to these record company suites, and they would just have piles of cocaine on the table. So I spent four years of my life doing cocaine every day and not being able to stop, spending money that I didn’t have on cocaine, and at the same time, continuing to drink alcohol. And then it led to taking speed and other forms of drugs.
I got to the point where I couldn’t stop, and it made me a new person. And so I felt like I had to continue drinking and doing these drugs because people expected me to be a certain way, this entertainer, this radio DJ. And so I got hung up in it, and I couldn’t get out of it.
”I felt like I had to continue drinking and doing these drugs because people expected me to be a certain way, this entertainer, this radio DJ. And so I got hung up in it, and I couldn’t get out of it.” – Lanny West
The record company representatives would come to town and without exception, they all had cocaine with them. They all carried it an ounce at a time. We would sit around and do cocaine late in the evening, and about three o’clock in the morning in order to go to sleep, I would smoke pot and take NyQuil and then get back up in the morning and start it all over again. And I tried many times just to stop it. But it just didn’t happen.
I remember clearly one time my sinuses were so infected and so clogged up that as I was driving into the trailer park that I lived in at the time, I threw about an ounce of cocaine out of the window of the car and swore that I was never going to do it again. And I got up the next morning to head into work and got out and went into the bushes and found the cocaine again and just started it all over again. It just takes over and it consumes you. It’s so difficult to stop that. Fortunately, I never did anything like heroin or any of those types of drugs. But the addiction and the allure of doing these drugs and drinking is just beyond being able to control it.
I continued drinking until four years ago on a very regular basis, but cocaine was [A] getting too expensive, [B] very dangerous to do, and [C] it was killing me. I was doing things that I really became embarrassed that I was doing, so cocaine was the first thing that I shoved aside, and fortunately, I did not have to go to any kind of rehabilitation center. I just quit.
And again, I look back on my life, and even though I didn’t know my real father, there was a Father who was watching out for me. And I look back on all of these experiences, I know that Jesus Christ had His hand in saving me. And so when I decided to quit doing cocaine, I just quit and it was, oh, many years later—that would have been in the eighties. And then I would say four years ago, I gave my life to Christ through some great circumstances and in realizing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I was really messing things up. You know, I’d gotten into some in pornography addiction at the same time, and I just made the decision that I had to stop, that I was not doing anything good for me or my wife. And so I quit. And fortunately again, I didn’t have to go to any kind of rehab program or AA, you know. With the help of Christ, I was able to stop.
I don’t miss having a cocktail. I don’t miss drinking. I don’t miss cocaine. I don’t miss any of that because I’m filled with God’s Spirit, and that’s the most important thing in my life right now.
“Even though I didn’t know my real father, there was a Father that was watching out for me. . . . I don’t miss having a cocktail. I don’t miss drinking. I don’t miss cocaine. I don’t miss any of that because I’m filled with God’s spirit, and that’s the most important thing in my life right now.” – Lanny West
Learning to Listen to God
I started exploring the Bible, I started exploring spending time by myself at the farm, being quiet, listening, knowing that He is God, and asking for Him to come into my life. And it was kind of—I don’t want to say it’s funny—but I kept asking [my brother-in-law] Don, I said, “Okay, look, I’m asking, I’m listening. What’s going to happen? Am I going to start turning cartwheels down the Walmart aisle or am I going to fall on the floor? Is some big revelation going to happen? What do I expect from God in this journey if I’m giving Him my heart and so forth?” And Don said, “Lanny, just listen.” Now that rang so true because all of my life, I have spent time listening to music and the lyrics intervening in my life.
And so in 2017, August 10th, I was in our kitchen. I love cooking and I do a lot of cooking. And for whatever reason, I got this notion to listen to contemporary Christian music. Amy Grant is the only contemporary Christian artist that I knew, so I go to my iTunes and I look up contemporary Christian music, and it gave me these compilation CDs or whatever, and I knew none of the artists. So I’m back cooking and I’m listening, and we get five songs into this compilation and this song comes on and the lyrics, it was the most amazing thing ever, and I got chills right now thinking about it. The Holy Spirit grabbed me. I fell to the floor. I was a puddle, just a mess as this song was playing and I couldn’t get up off the floor. I was crying and listening to this song and the lyrics. The song is, “God, You don’t need me, but oh, how You want me.” I may start crying here just saying the lyrics to this song. I must’ve played that song twenty times, and I went into my computer and immediately wrote an email to my brother-in-law, Don, and told him what had happened.
And so I didn’t say anything to [my wife] Leslie. Our guests came over. We had dinner. They left and we’re sitting at the table. And Leslie says, “Lanny, are you okay?” And I said, “Yes.” She said, “There’s something different about you.” And so we both started crying, and I told her the story of what had happened. And it was just the most amazing thing. And I knew at that moment that the Spirit had entered me and that God had finally shaken me to the point where I realized that I could not go on in my life without Him, the Father that I never had, to be in my life. And that’s the story. It’s amazing.
“I knew at that moment that the Spirit had entered me and that God had finally shaken me to the point where I realized that I could not go on in my life without Him.” – Lanny West
This farm is forty acres of some of the most beautiful land in Tennessee. I just look around and I see what God has created, and I’m closer to Him by being here with this energy. And while we put the money up for this place, we don’t own the farm. God has asked me to be the steward of this property, and He guided me here, not because I’m a farmer. We do grow some organic stuff and we’ve got fruit trees and so forth. But I’m not a farmer by trade. I realize now that what my walk and my path are is to harvest souls and that this becomes a place for people that need discovery, that need to get closer to God, that need to build their relationship, strengthen their relationship, or come to a relationship with God. They can find that here at the farm. So I spend every day working with our animals outside, the bees that we’ve got, and really working on the men’s ministry here, which is going to roll into a couple’s ministry and then building on doing songwriter retreats here, which we do at the farm. So this is a place that God brought me to help me discover Him in His fullness and also to share that with other people.
Spending Time with God
Spending time with God on a daily basis is something that I have come to appreciate and love. I hope at age sixty-nine, I hope that I live a more fruitful life or live a little bit longer so I can share this with other people. And I think that’s what God’s desire is for me to do. But I look back and I go, Man oh man, what a dummy, and how you missed this opportunity in your life. But I’m going to take advantage of every minute of the way. So I study every day.
We read devotions. We read Jesus Calling in the morning while we’re having coffee in bed and some other devotions. And that is really all I want to do with my life, all I want to do is bring glory to God. That is why He put us here. That’s why He wants us on this Earth. That’s why we are His children.
One of the really important Jesus Calling [passages] comes from June 20th:
I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you. I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence.
You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes that see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice look- ing and listening for Me during quiet intervals. Gradually you will find Me in more and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.
This passage is so strong for where I am in my walk with Christ and my time here at the farm. Everywhere I look, I see the creation that God put here, and He did that for me as long as I seek Him and seek Him above all else. So this passage was so poignant and timely for me at the farm.
Narrator: To learn more about Lanny and his work, please visit https://www.tippingpt.coach/. And be sure to check out his latest book, Father, Son, and the Unholy Road: The Dark, Twisted Truth of My Journey From Cocaine to Christ, at your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about turning to God when you’re feeling broken, check out our interview with Holly Hayes.
Next week: 5th Dimension’s Florence LaRue
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast we hear from Florence LaRue, a former member of the GRAMMY-winning group 5th Dimension. She talks about the competitive music industry and how she worked to become the kind of friend that supported her fellow musicians.
Florence LaRue: Now I know that we have to support each other and to be happy for others when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad. That’s what true friendship is. That’s what true love is, that you support each other and you don’t envy someone for going out and having a bigger career than you have. That’s part of the growth.