Ted Williams, the last major league baseball player to bat over .400, once told a reporter, “Hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sport.” One year after Williams passed away, USA Today published a comprehensive case study and agreed that, of the 10 hardest things to do in sports, hitting a baseball was No. 1.
A panel of experts including scientists, mathematicians, and physics professors explained that a batter has one-tenth of a second to determine whether he or she will swing, anywhere from one-tenth to one-quarter of a second to determine where the ball is going and how to swing, and one-quarter to one-half second to actually swing.
All these decisions and actions must happen in a split second by swinging a cylindrical wooden object at a round, white ball, nine and a half inches in circumference traveling at roughly 90 mph. Sometimes the pitched ball will dip and dive, as if it was dropped off a table. Other times it will float and knuckle in cartoon-like fashion.
Patrick Michael Venditte Jr. is a 23-year-old pitcher for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees. In baseball terms, Venditte is a “closer.” His role is limited to one inning or less, in most cases, and his responsibility is to secure a victory for the team by recording the final out.
Unfortunately, Venditte does not have speed or size. He stands six-foot-one and weighs 190 pounds. His pitches — fastball, curveball, and slider — reach 85 to 87 mph, not exactly closer stuff. He’s nothing like Joba Chamberlain, who at the same age, pitching for the same organization, is six-foot-three and 230 pounds. His fastball has been clocked anywhere from 95 to 100 mph.
Fortunately, Pat Venditte throws with both arms. In fact, he is the only pitcher in professional baseball to do so. He has two different pitches with his right arm and two more with his left, with a sidearm delivery. Now try hitting that.
“For me to even get here, it took pitching left-handed and right-handed,” he confesses. “I don’t have overpowering stuff. To have that advantage, and to say that I’d have the same success without it, would be foolish.”
Venditte is not a public relations stunt. His statistics bear that out. Through April Venditte has appeared in 10 games for the RiverDogs, collecting one win and seven saves. In 11 innings, he’s allowed just seven hits and has struck out 21 batters, nearly two an inning. His ERA: a skinny 0.60.
According to RiverDogs pitching coach Jeff Ware, “It’s almost like watching two completely different pitchers because the mechanics are so totally different. All the charts are P. Venditte ‘R’ and P. Venditte ‘L.’ I treat him like two totally different pitchers. You know it’s one guy, but you still have to treat him like it’s two different pitchers.
“With Venditte, he’s not a flamethrower, but he has great command,” Ware adds. “The most fascinating part about him is, not only can he throw with both arms, he can locate and command pitches with both arms.”
Command and location — if Venditte can master those two aspects of his game, he could one day end up wearing the vaunted navy blue pinstripes of the Yankees. The thought alone motivates major league veterans; one can only imagine what it must do for a kid from Nebraska. So, for that reason, Venditte tries to put it out of his mind.
Two arms required
Twenty years ago, Pat Venditte Sr. first began to plot his son’s future.
“We were in the batting cage working out and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if he could do with both arms what he’s doing with one?’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Why couldn’t someone throw with both arms?'”
The younger Venditte was really young. “I was three years old,” the younger Venditte says. “My dad started working with me. He actually built a batting cage. We started working out every day, even at that age.”
Pat Sr. began taking the notion seriously.
“I started setting up a schedule, a routine, navigating where I don’t think anyone has ever navigated before,” he says. “I think my interest in the game allowed me to incorporate some of the motor skills necessary to be effective throwing with both arms. We plowed through the work stages of that development, every day, and when I say every day, I mean two to three times a day.”
The workout was not baseball-exclusive, nor was it arm-exclusive. Pat Sr. designed a program that developed skill and timing using both arms and both feet.
“I bought him a kicking tee, and he would place kick, both legs, 25 times,” Pat Sr. says. “Then he would punt the ball with both legs. I know it sounds easy, but, let me tell you, try and punt with both feet. It’s not easy.”
Before long, the Venditte’s backyard was outfitted with Astroturf, a batting cage, a radar gun, and a pitching machine. It was effortless — and fun — for both father and son.
The senior Venditte was having so much fun, he thought he’d try the same thing with his two daughters. “But they took a liking to the stage more than they did athletics and all their spare time was spent on the stage,” he says. “I really believe that I could have made them ambidextrous softball pitchers if simply given the time. That would have truly been something to be able to throw that ball underhand, fast pitch!?”
At the age of seven, Venditte first stepped on a Little League mound. It was his first competitive appearance. He carried two gloves, one for his right hand and one for his left hand. That trick lasted through warm ups.
“He set one behind him, and the umpire called time-out and asked him what he was doing,” Pat Sr. remembers. “He made him put one away. The umpire said it could create interference.”
No Little League rule was going to halt the progress father and son made. Soon after, Pat Sr. sat down at a table with his son and asked him to place his hand on a piece of paper. With Junior’s fingers spread wide, he traced an outline around his hand.
“I contacted a guy in Japan,” Pat Sr. says. “It was about a 13-hour difference, and finally I hooked him one night. It was 12 or one in the morning here when I called. It took me three calls, and they’d answer the phone in Japanese.”
It’s amazing what a little ingenuity, some patience, and a positive attitude will do. In just a few months, the glove problem was solved. Venditte now owned his first ambidextrous glove, stitched together by a “master craftsman” at Mizuno headquarters in Osaka, Japan. The standard Mizuno infielders glove that you’d find in a local sporting goods store costs $50, give or take a few dollars. The cost for a custom-designed ambidextrous glove: $400.
Pat Sr. adds, “When [Pat Jr.] was playing high school ball in Omaha Central high school, he came home one day and said, ‘Dad, when I’m not pitching they’ve got me playing first base. Which way do you want me to go?’ I said both.”
The only problem was the coach wanted Venditte to use a first baseman’s glove. “I got back on the horn to Japan,” says Pat Sr. A few months and a few more hundred dollars later, Junior had a glove. “I think I have the only ambidextrous first baseman’s glove in the world.”
Another glove, another $400.
Pat Venditte Jr. grins and bears it when fans, teammates, and friends start making jokes. He’s heard every clever line, every perverse joke you can imagine. These days, Venditte is known around the RiverDogs clubhouse as “Pulpo,” a nickname his Dominican teammates gave him which means “octopus” in Spanish.
In 2008, Venditte was selected as the 620th pick in the MLB draft by the New York Yankees. Two weeks later he threw his first professional pitch for the Staten Island Yankees against their crosstown rivals the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Venditte pitched a scoreless — and bizarre — inning, recording his first professional save.
With two outs, Venditte faced Ralph Henriquez, a switch-hitter. When Henriquez stepped in to bat right-handed, Venditte switched hands to pitch right-handed. Henriquez called time out, switched his ankle guard and stepped in as a left-handed hitter. Venditte shuffled his glove to the other hand and gripped the ball with his left hand. This strategic charade continued several times until the umpire instructed Henriquez to select which side of the plate he intended to hit, and that the pitcher would then be allowed to declare with which arm he would pitch. Venditte struck out Henriquez (who slammed his bat in the dirt in anger) to end the game.
The episode prompted the Professional Baseball Umpires Corp. (PBUC) to amend the rule book to include “The Pat Venditte Rule.”
“The hitter and I are each allowed one switch per at-bat, but I have to declare first,” Venditte says. “So, if a switch-hitter comes up, I have to declare visually which arm I am going to throw with, and he can decide which hand he wants to hit with.”
The rule was part of the learning curve for RiverDogs coach Jeff Ware, when he learned Venditte would be assigned to pitch in Charleston this summer.
“Spring training for him was spring training for me,” Ware says. “It was like nothing I’d ever been a part of. Learning the rules, seeing the reactions of players who’d never seen him before was kind of fun. Seeing Pat move the glove from one hand to the other and watching the hitter’s reaction … it was a lot fun.”
The Next Generation
With over 1,500 friends on the social networking website Facebook, Venditte is now beginning to share his knowledge and experience with youngsters all over the world. “I have guys on there that throw with both arms that have contacted me asking me what to do,” Venditte says. “I get kids on Facebook from eight to 20 years old. I made contact with a kid from Japan asking for advice on pitches.”
Meanwhile, Pat Sr. is fielding calls almost daily. “I get phone calls from parents, grandparents, who are working with their kids, are working diligently to get them to become ambidextrous. They are nine, 10, 12, 14 years of age.”
Both father and son willingly share and encourage the efforts of parents who want to teach their children to be ambidextrous. But Pat Sr. is quick to point out that they need to be patient.
“Time, time, time,” he says. “The time we spent doing this … I mean, there are some kids who come in to this ambidexterity that have a lot of naturalness toward that end, but in Pat’s case we really had to work at it.”
Pat Sr. believes that there is a future for ambidextrous pitchers in pro baseball. “We’re in the infant stages of learning what the athlete can do with both arms,” he says. “Do I think there are going to be some kids in the future who are doing what Pat is doing? Yes. I think they’ll be bigger and stronger and faster.”
Can you imagine: A bigger, stronger, faster ambidextrous pitcher throwing with both arms at 95 miles per hour? It may be time for USA Today to commission a new case study.
A Brief History of Double-fisters
Tony “The Count” Mullane
Baltimore Orioles/Chicago White Stockings (1882)
Mullane was the first well-known ambidextrous pitcher. A native of Ireland, Mullane turned pro in 1880. He would go on to win 285 career games. According to reports, it was on July 18, 1882, that Mullane first pitched with both arms in a game. He wore no glove.
Chicago White Stockings (1884)
Corcoran pitched using both arms in a game between Chicago and Buffalo. He alternated arms for four innings before switching to shortstop.
Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain
Louisville Colonels (1888)
Chamberlain threw with both arms during an American Association game between Louisville and Kansas City on May 9, 1888. He pitched two innings.
Muskogee Chiefs (1925)
Richards pitched with both hands on July 23, 1925, for the Muskogee Chiefs. Called to the mound from his shortstop position, he pitched both right-handed and left-handed. At one point, he faced a switch-hitter, which briefly resulted in both pitcher and batter switching hands and batter’s boxes, respectively, until Richards broke the stalemate by alternating hands with each pitch, regardless of where the batter positioned himself.
Montreal Expos (1995)
At the age of 39, Montreal Expos pitcher Greg Harris entered a September 28, 1995, game against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning and pitched with both arms. He prevented the Reds from scoring, but the Expos ultimately lost the game.
Harvard University (2003)
In 2003, Harvard manager Joe Walsh said, “Someday he’s going to be our No. 1 starter and our No. 3 starter as well.” Brunning was nicknamed “The Freak” because he could throw 85 mph left-handed and 90 mph right-handed.
The Pat Venditte Rule
The Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC) released its official rules for dealing with ambidextrous pitchers. These guidelines were reached after PBUC staff consulted with a variety of sources, including the Major League Baseball Rules Committee.
• The pitcher must visually indicate to the umpire, batter, and runner(s) which way he will begin pitching to the batter. Engaging the rubber with the glove on a particular hand is considered a definitive commitment to which arm he will throw with. The batter will then choose which side of the plate he will bat from.
• The pitcher must throw one pitch to the batter before any “switch” by either player is allowed.
• After one pitch is thrown, the pitcher and batter may each change positions one time per at-bat. For example, if the pitcher changes from right-handed to left-handed and the batter then changes batter’s boxes, each player must remain that way for the duration of that at-bat (unless the offensive team substitutes a pinch hitter, and then each player may again “switch” one time).
• Any switch (by either the pitcher or the batter) must be clearly indicated to the umpire. There will be no warm-up pitches during the change of arms.
• If an injury occurs, the pitcher may change arms but not use that arm again during the remainder of the game.