The late 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, the USA Today published a comprehensive case study and agreed, 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 1/10 of a second to determine whether he/she will swing, anywhere from 1/10 to ¼ of a second to determine where the ball is going and how to swing and ¼ to ½ second to actually swing.
All these decisions and actions must happen – literally – in a split second by swinging a cylindrical wooden object at a round, white ball, 9 ½ inches in circumference traveling at roughly 90 miles per hours. Sometimes the pitched ball will dip and dive, like dropping off a table. Other times it will float and knuckle in cartoon-like fashion.
Pat Venditte Sr. is the father of Patrick Michael Venditte Jr., a 23-year old pitching prospect for the Charleston Riverdogs, the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees. In baseball terms, Venditte has is called a “closer.” His role was limited to one inning or less, in most cases, and his responsibility: secure a victory for the team by recording the final out.
Hypothetically, let’s assume Venditte is the pitcher for the case study.
“I reflect back on the recipe that many scouts use,” said Pat Venditte Sr. “A lot of it has to do with speed. If a kid doesn’t have speed and size, they’re not interested.”
Unfortunately, his son does not have speed or size. He is not physically gifted. Venditte stands six-foot-one and weighs 190 pounds. His pitches – fastball, curveball and slider – reach 85-87 miles per hour. Not exactly closer stuff, not exactly intimidating, he’s nothing like Joba Chamberlain, who at the same age, pitching for the same organization, is 6’ 3” and 230 pounds. His fastball has been clocked anywhere from 95-100 miles per hour on a radar gun. Now, that is intimidating.
“To be successful Pat has to do two things,” said Pat Sr. “Locate his pitches and, two: throw the kind of pitch that will disrupt the batter.”
Agitating the batter shouldn’t be a problem since Venditte throws right-handed … and left-handed. He is ambidextrous, the only pitcher in professional baseball to throw with both arms. He throws two different pitches with his right arm, two more with his left with a sidearm delivery; now, try hitting that.
“In the last 10-15 years the prototypical closer comes out throwing 95 miles an hour,” explained Charleston Riverdogs pitching coach Jeff Ware. “With Venditte, he’s not a flamethrower but he has great command. The most fascinating part about him is, not only can he throw with both arms, he can locate and command pitches with both arms.”
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 pitched he’s allowed just seven hits and has struck out 21 batters, nearly two an inning. His ERA: a skinny 0.60.
Command and location, if Venditte can master those two aspects of his game, it could one day lead to him wearing the vaunted Navy blue pinstripes. The same pinstripes worn by baseball legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Jackson and Jeter. The thought alone motivates major league veterans, one can only imagine what it must do to a kid from Nebraska. So, for that reason, he tries to put it out of his mind.
“You don’t see a lot of guys with my velocity in the big leagues,” he said. “I am trying to build velocity but, more importantly, I need to focus on locating my pitches. If the velocity doesn’t come, I need to rely on locating pitches and throwing two or three pitches for strikes. Location is a mental thing, it’s up here (pointing to his head) and that’s what I’m going to continue to work on.”
It was command and location that led to success for future Hall of Famers Jamie Moyer (Philadelphia Phillies), Greg Maddux (Atlanta Braves) and Tom Glavine (Atlanta Braves). Just the mention of those names makes Venditte smile, seemingly embarrassed by the comparison. “I’m not at that point but, hopefully over time with hard work, I can get better and see what happens,” he said.
TWO ARMS REQUIRED
Pat Venditte throws with both arms out of necessity.
“For me to even get here it took pitching left-handed and right-handed,” he confessed. “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.”
“It’s almost like watching two complete different pitchers because the mechanics are so totally different,” added Ware. “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 its two different pitchers.”
The concept took shape 20 years ago, beginning with a series of radical questions in the Pat Venditte Sr.’s head.
“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,” said Pat Venditte. “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 said. “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 2-3 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,” he said. “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, ‘Why not try it with Katie and Anna?’ 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 said. “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!?”
As Pat Venditte learned, with ambidexterity comes a certain amount of curiosity, and out of curiosity, come questions. In this case, Venditte’s baseball glove has received as much attention, if not more, than the man who wears it. The custom-designed black hunk of leather has six finger holes, two thumbs and the pocket in the middle.
It began when Venditte first stepped on a Little League mound at the age of seven. 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 timeout and asked him what he was doing,” remembers his father, Pat Sr. “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,” said Pat Sr. “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. I varied my approach in trying to get a hold of him.”
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.
“When he 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,” said Pat Sr. and 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.
“Now I am fortunate enough to have a deal with Mizuno,” said Venditte.
Pat Venditte grins and bears it when fans, teammates and friends start making jokes. The smile, if only to amuse the comedic effort, gets old. 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 in Spanish means octopus.
“I see where other people can see the big difference but, for me, it’s what I’ve had to do to compete here,” said Venditte. “I’ve been doing it so long that … outside opinion how people see me isn’t that important. The only thing that’s important is that I’m getting my job done. That’s really the only thing that matters. How I get it done, being a closer, I just do it both ways.”
If Pat Venditte had attended public grade school his ambidexterity would have made him a freak, an outcast. Throwing with two arms, kicking with both legs on the playground, Venditte would have been unnatural. He would be get more acceptance if he had three eyes.
“The fact that he was home-schooled, his attitude was very positive,” said Pat Sr. “He only continued to keep doing what he was doing because he thought it to be natural. Had he been in a public school setting, I think he would have been mocked and ridiculed. I think when a young man or young woman gets that kind of feedback from another kid it breeds any attitude that wouldn’t be very conducive to the kind of thing we were attempting to get done.”
Venditte credits his son’s former coaches from Little League to high school and through college for encouraging something new and different. If his coaches during his formative years resisted the concept, Pat Venditte may not be pitching professionally today.
When he was in high school, Pat’s uncle approached his father and said, “I don’t know what you’re doing but I think you are making a big mistake. He’s not going to be effective with both arms but if you work with him with one arm he’s going to be strong.’ It planted a seed that made me think are we making a mistake that is not allowing him to perform at peak level with one arm?”
It was the first, and only time, Pat Sr. recalls hearing anything negative about letting his son pitch ambidextrous. Now, it celebrated. The media is calling and Charleston baseball fans have responded. “I was in Charleston watching him pitch and all the fans would switch seats to the left and to the right depending on which way he was throwing. I was taken aback.”
The fans, the movement, the comments, they’re all white noise to Venditte. For the former marketing major, his sales pitch is simple: “I like to market myself by the product on the field. As long as I’m getting the job done and help us win games, that’s all that matters. I like to think my actions speak louder than my words.”
LEARNING BASEBALLS GREATEST LESSON
Being a professional baseball player was never Pat Venditte’s goal. He loved the game but, as Venditte says, “I just knew I wanted to keep playing.”
With Venditte’s slight build and less-than-overpowering pitching style, he struggled. In high school he tried out for Creighton Prep, a premiere high school in Omaha.
“I didn’t make the team,” remembers Venditte. “I weighed my options and decided to go to a public school. I made the team, but I still didn’t make varsity until I was a junior. I didn’t have great high school numbers, but I loved the game.”
By the end of high school, Venditte wanted to continue playing baseball in college. He had small scholarship offers from Division II and NAIA schools. Division I programs had a difficult time finding use for a pitcher with average velocity and success.
Attending high school a block away from Creighton University, head coach Ed Servais offered Venditte the opportunity to compete for a spot of the roster. He jumped at it.
“He guaranteed me a spot on the team,” said Venditte. “It was my job to make the 25-man roster. I had a decent Fall and I made the first couple trips with the travel team but my first outing didn’t go very well and I didn’t make another trip until May.”
Venditte pitched all right-handed his freshman year. “Coach Servais didn’t want to make a mockery of the game and I hadn’t proven myself to go out and switch during a game,” he said. “I had to work on that to prove that I could do it.”
He did. Venditte went back to work with his father. “We’d get to high school early in the mornings,” Venditte remembers. “When the weather wasn’t nice, we’d go to the gym and throw. At the time, I didn’t have any set goals in mind.”
In May of his freshman year, with two innings under his collegiate belt, Venditte was thrust into action in the conference championship game against Wichita State.
“Things didn’t go very well,” he said. “I didn’t perform well. It cost us the conference tournament – and that’s when things really turned around for me. I looked at myself and I felt that I needed to change. Coach Servais told me some things I needed to work on, it really motivated me to work harder that summer.
“I’ve learned that once you think you have the game figured out it will come back to kick you. That’s something that Coach Servais always taught us, ‘Once you think you have this game down is the second it’s going to stomp on you.’ You can have a two-run lead, two out and two strikes, but the second you back off is the second it falls apart.”
Before Pat Venditte ever threw a pitch as a professional, he learned his greatest lesson about the game of baseball. He was humbled. Venditte’s failure changed everything. He no longer wanted to “just keep playing.” He arrived at Creighton his sophomore year with a goal: win.
“It paid off,” said Venditte, relaxing on a leather couch in the Riverdogs clubhouse. “Two years later (now pitching with both arms), I got the same chance to start against Wichita State in the conference tournament and we won that game.”
PITCHING FOR MONEY
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 the 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.” A rule Venditte can recite in his sleep.
“The hitter and I are each allowed one switch per at-bat but I have to declare first,” described Venditte. “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,” said Ware. “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 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,” said Venditte. “I get kids on Facebook from eight to 20 years old. I made contact with a kid from Japan asking 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 9, 10, 12, 14 years of age.”
Both father and son willingly share and encourage the efforts of parents teaching ambidexterity. But Pat Sr. is quick to point out patience.
“Time, time, time,” said Pat Sr. “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 Venditte is not the first, nor will he be the last, ambidextrous pitcher.
“We’re in the infant stages of learning what the athlete can do with both arms,” said Pat Sr. “Do I think there’s 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 the USA Today to commission a new case study.
as published in the Charleston City Paper