OMAHA, Neb. - Pat Venditte Sr. came up with the idea when he was tossing a ball to his 3-year-old son in the backyard.
Wouldn’t it be neat if he could get Pat Jr., a natural right-hander, to throw equally well with his left?
Now “Little Pat,” as his dad calls him, is the only active switch pitcher in Division I baseball and one of the few ambidextrous hurlers in the history of the sport.
The sophomore is a middle reliever for Creighton. And just as Dad hoped, Pat Jr. is equally good with both arms, his coaches and statistics say.
“I have average stuff from both sides, and I really think it takes me to pitch with both arms even to be a little bit effective here,” Venditte said. “It throws the hitters off and it gives me the advantage almost every at-bat. I need every inch I can take.”
Venditte’s ERA is 2.36 as a righty and 2.92 as a lefty. He retired all six batters he faced in two innings against Kansas on Wednesday — three as a righty, three as a lefty. He had a strikeout with each arm.
If you think Creighton got two pitchers for the price of one, you would be wrong. Venditte is a walk-on who, as Creighton coach Ed Servais said, “recruited us.”
Venditte told Servais he would pay his own way if he got a chance to pitch. The coach didn’t make any promises, but was impressed with Venditte’s determination and competitiveness.
Venditte’s strength is location, not power. He throws around 80 mph as a lefty and about 85 mph as a righty.
“If you look at talent alone, Pat shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing,” Servais said. “But he has a different drive than most players in our program. He’s a grinder.”
Venditte worked 3 2-3 innings last season as a freshman, all right-handed.
He pitched both ways for the first time as a collegian on Feb. 17 against Illinois-Chicago. He now has done it in 17 of his 23 appearances.
“The first couple times we were hesitant because of my respect for baseball,” Servais said. “I didn’t want it to be a sideshow.”
But Venditte has proved himself. He’s 2-1, and his combined ERA of 2.51 is third-best on the team. A bonus is that, theoretically, he can do twice the work of a regular pitcher, Servais said.
“If another guy throws 30 pitches one day, I know I’m not going to be able to use him the next day,” Servais said. “With Pat, if he throws 30 pitches, and 15 are right-handed and 15 are left-handed, I know I can come back to him tomorrow.”
Venditte’s repertoire even changes with the arm: fastball, curveball, changeup as a righty; fastball, slider, changeup as a lefty.
Venditte wears an ambidextrous glove that has two thumb holes and four finger holes. His father has been ordering the tailor-made gloves, at almost $700 each, from the Mizuno factory in Osaka, Japan, since his son was 7.
The rules require Venditte to declare which way he’s going to pitch before each batter steps into the box. If a switch hitter is due up, pitching coach Travis Wyckoff will signal to Venditte which arm to use based on the scouting report.
Venditte’s two-armed routine has drawn plenty of double-takes from opponents and fans. Senior reliever Scott Reese said he thought Venditte was a freak when he first saw him work. The novelty has since worn off.
“Some people think we’re doing it just for attention, but he does a phenomenal job from both sides,” Reese said. “It’s not so much the comments you hear when Pat pitches. It’s more the facial reactions, especially on the guys who aren’t paying much attention when he’s warming up. It completely catches them off off-guard. We get a kick out of that.”
Harvard’s Matt Brunnig is the only other known ambidextrous pitcher in Division I this season, though he’s thrown just right-handed so far.
The best-known major league switch pitchers were Tony Mullane and Greg Harris. Mullane, who pitched in the 1880s and ’90s, wore no glove and would face the batter with both hands on the ball before throwing it with either one. Harris, using both arms, pitched one inning of scoreless relief for the Montreal Expos on Sept. 28, 1995.
By then, Venditte was throwing both ways with ease and befuddling batters in youth league games.
Pat Sr. said he used special drills to hone his son’s switch pitching. He would have Little Pat throw footballs left-handed to build strength and muscle memory, and he would have him punt footballs left-footed to develop the leg kick needed for pitching.
“There was no book, no reference material for me to go from,” the senior Venditte said. “It’s not something that can be done overnight or within a month or year. It requires extensive time and practice. I wish there were an easy way. I don’t know that he has reached his full potential yet because he’s still getting bigger and stronger.”
And his son is happy Venditte Sr. took the time to train him when he was young.
“It’s second nature now,” the younger Venditte said. “You don’t even think about it. You put on the glove and it comes naturally. If you start out young enough, anybody can do it.”
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