If you have the opportunity to take in a minor league game involving the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (or the Empire State Yankees for the 2012 season), you may notice something that will cause a double take. Should No. 58 trot out to the pitchers mound, you might want to pay attention because you might see something that hasn’t been done but once in baseball’s modern era. Pat Venditte, Jr (born 1985 in Omaha, Nebraska) was ten years old when Greg A. Harris did something not done since the turn of the twentieth century; he pitched both left-handed and right handed in the same inning for the Montreal Expos.
At an early age, Pat’s parents noticed he had a tendency to throw a ball with either hand without favoring his left or right. These ambidextrous tendencies were reinforced through other sports like football. His mother even had him write with both hands while he was home schooled. As he started to learn the art of pitching, his father (Pat Sr.) taught him to pitch with either hand to gain a competitive edge. In order to help his son’s leg motion for pitching in this manner, he had Pat Jr. practiced punting a football with both legs. When Pat first started switch-pitching in Little League, there were times when the other team’s coaches and/or fans would come to the senior Pat and tell him how well they thought his twins pitched. It is in this aspect that George A. Harris’ legacy differs from Venditte as Harris did not display this unique talent until his 15th and final season in Major League Baseball.
Venditte played high school ball for Omaha Central High earning All-Nebraska second team honors in his senior year. In college, he pitched for the Creighton Bluejays as a walk-on. In 2007 he amassed several honors at Creigton including Missouri Valley first-team all-conference, national player of the week, and third team All-American. Venditte made things especially difficult for opposing managers as games moved to the late innings. Normally able to match up a pinch hitter with the current pitcher, Venditte’s ability to switch to the other arm became a skipper’s worst nightmare.
Professional baseball came knocking late spring 2007 when the Yankees picked Venditte in the 45th round of the draft. Venditte had made it known he was planning to return to Creighton for his senior year. His reasoning was he needed to work on velocity in his left arm as well as adding another pitch to his right arm’s arsenal. The Yankees tried again in 2008 and were able to sign Venditte in the 20th round.
Venditte’s right-handed, over the top pitching style comes with a low 90s fastball, decent changeup, and curveball. His side-armed motion when throwing left comes with a mid-80s fastball, nasty slider, as well as another changeup. Venditte freely admits he doesn’t really have dominating stuff on either side. His assessment of his ability is shared with scouts who don’t consider baseball’s most unique pitcher to be a serious major league prospect. In addition to his duality on the mound, Venditte also uses a special custom-made glove with six fingers that includes a thumbhole on either side as well as double webbing. This allows him to switch glove hands when pitching to a lefty or righty. The glove mod also gives Venditte the ability to field and throw with the respective hands he is most comfortable with. Dominican teammates affectionately referred to him as ‘Pulpo’ (Spanish for ‘octopus’) as he progressed through the Yankees farm system.
Due to the extremely rare circumstances that Venditte presents, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation established a new rule on July 3, 2008 for ambidextrous pitchers. Known as the ‘Venditte Rule’, it states that the pitcher must give visual indication to the umpire, batter, and runner(s) which arm he will be throwing with during the upcoming at bat. For example, if the pitcher establishes a spot on the rubber with his glove on either hand, this is to be considered a confirmation. At that point, the batter can choose which side to bat from. The pitcher is not allowed to pitch with the other hand until the batter has been retired, the batter has reached base, or the inning comes to an end. An injury to the throwing arm is a permitted excuse for switching mid-at bat. Additionally, if there is an injury to a particular throwing arm, the pitcher may not use that arm again for the remainder of the game. There is also no warm up pitches allowed went throwing arm is switched.
Venditte is currently pitching in Triple-A ball for Empire State (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) Yankees and has progressed fairly well through the farm system. He’s averaged one minor league level per year and has never been demoted in the Yankees farm system. He also has a small cult following which has resulted in his own fan site (patvendittefanclub.com). His AAA debut was a two-inning relief effort that yielded four earned runs and a loss.
In working towards achieving a decent MLB career, time may be working against the 27 year-old anomaly. There are some scouts who believe that Venditte has already hit his high-water mark, and at this point may be nothing more than a commodity. However, all may not be lost for Venditte. If there are several injuries that plague the Yanks bullpen, coupled with a strong season for him in AAA, there is an outside chance that the decorated history of Yankee baseball could add one more unique notch to its belt.