While he looks and acts like the same guy, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon has made a few changes during this off-season. The most noticeable for the 27-year old is the spelling of his last name, instead of Poncedeleon it has now been restored to Ponce de Leon.
“It’s our family last name,” Ponce de Leon explained. “That’s how my dad’s is originally and that’s how all his family was. I’m a big person with family. I love having family, and I want to have a big family myself and so I wanted everything right. And, you know, it’s a small tweak, but it’s the right tweak, so that’s what was important to me.”
The name change wasn’t the result of the media squeezing it together or a clubhouse attendant sewing it on wrong.
“My mom, I believe when I was a kid, put it on my birth certificate all one word,” Ponce de Leon said. “Put all my sister’s on it. Because, just for mail reasons, everyone messed up. You get “de Leon.” And Ponce. People thought my first name was Ponce for the longest time. It’s just, for convenience wise they put it into one word.”
And Ponce de Leon will be able to see his properly spelled name on his jersey more clearly this season as he recently underwent Lasik.
“That was something that’s been on my list for a while, I hate wearing glasses,” he shared. “I always see fine during the day but at night it’s a big difference because if you’ve ever seen me pitch in the minor leagues before I had my glasses, I was always bending over, like squinting hard trying to read the signs. Carson Kelly hated me because he didn’t know what was coming half the time. But then I got glasses and started throwing strikes and I was like oh, that makes sense.”
Better vision should certainly help, but that likely won’t be the biggest difference that opposing hitters notice.
“One of the big things this last year, everyone loved my curveball but I never threw it because I couldn’t throw it for a strike,” Ponce de Leon said. “And I was working it daily but I just couldn’t figure it out. And then you know, this off-season I just kinda let it go and went back and talked to some people and I think I found the grip that I like and I think my curveball’s back.”
Ponce de Leon made his MLB debut without allowing a hit in 7.0 scoreless innings against Cincinnati on July 23rd last season. He followed that up with 10 more appearances, three of them starts, for the Cardinals and struck out 28 batters in 26.0 innings.
Now like the other dozen or so arms in the mix, Ponce de Leon is preparing as a starter but is ready for whatever role assigned.
“I see myself as wherever the Cardinals need a role filled and they have my name on it, I’m ready to go,” Ponce de Leon said. “But, in my heart and ideally I would love to be a starter and that’s where I feel most comfortable, but if they need me in the bullpen I’m ready to go attack it full speed.”
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports