This winter in Omaha, Creighton University’s baseball team prepared for its season alongside Creighton alum Pat Venditte. Even though he finished his senior season here seven years ago, they pull for him as he takes what might be his last shot at the big leagues.
He reported this week to the Oakland Athletics, the team known for "Moneyball" and for thinking outside the box, which suits Venditte just fine.
"On your baseball card, under pitching, it won't be 'R.' It won't be 'L.' It'll be 'S?'" I asked.
"I guess," he said. "An 'S' or a 'B' for both. I don't know what they categorize that under."
How about an 'A' for ambidextrous?
Venditte spent the last seven seasons in the New York Yankees farm system pitching from both sides, except when he was sidelined by surgery on his right shoulder in 2012. He pitched exclusively as a left-hander in 2013 until he regained full strength. Last year, he threw from both sides again and reached the Triple-A level in the Yankees system but was released after the season. Venditte is excited about the A’s spring training invitation.
"They were one of the first teams to show big interest once I hit free agency," Venditte said. "They were the team that, through that process, I felt was most interested and would give me my best chance. Your goal is to make the team out of camp and, obviously, as a non-roster guy that’s going to be very difficult to do."
Not A Stunt
Encouraged by his father, Venditte started throwing from both sides at a young age. He sees his versatility as anything but a stunt.
"No, I don’t see this as a gimmick at all," Venditte said. "When my dad had me first doing it, I was 3 years old, but you don’t start playing T-ball or coach pitch or anything until you’re about 7, so it was just something where he would work on it every day. I think he could tell I was a natural right-hander, so he would spend a little bit more time on the left side. He would have me throw footballs, kick footballs. Things to get your dexterity going."
"I think it's served him very well," said Dr. Matt Dilisio, an orthopedic surgeon at Alegent Creighton Clinic in Omaha. Dr. Dilisio says Venditte has accomplished an athletic feat by taking his ambidexterity to the professional level.
"I know plenty of people that try to do it, mainly as a joke," Dilisio said. "But no one seems to have been able to accomplish what he’s done. Less than 5 to 10 percent of Major League Baseball player batters can bat at a high level right- and left-handed. And then pitching, you don’t hear about this almost ever, which goes to show how unique the ability to pitch at a high level right- and left-handed is."
When Creighton baseball coach Ed Servais saw Venditte pitch at nearby Omaha Central High School, he wasn’t overwhelmed by his ability to throw from both sides. But he gave Venditte a chance as a walk-on without a scholarship. Servais soon learned about his competitive side.
"Yeah, he was off the charts," Servais said. "Pat played with a lot of emotion, he played with a lot of passion and he forced his teammates to do that. And then when he got on the mound, you saw a different guy. He pulled that hat down and you saw that look in his face, that fire in his eyes. It was pretty special. It was neat to get him."
Servais didn’t let Venditte pitch from both sides until his sophomore year because he was afraid it would turn into what he calls “a circus act.” But when he finally turned him loose from both sides, Venditte got better and better. And he inspired a 2008 rule that requires a switch pitcher to clearly indicate which side he’ll pitch from and sets guidelines for when and how a switch pitcher and switch hitter may change sides during a given at-bat.
And then there’s a special glove.
"Yeah, it’s a Mizuno glove. It has two thumbs and the pocket’s in the middle," Venditte explained. "It's a little bigger than your normal glove, your traditional glove, but it’s what I’ve had since 7 years old, so if I put on a normal glove it doesn’t really feel quite normal."
Seven years removed from Venditte’s career at Creighton, Servais still hears from parents of ambidextrous pitchers seeking leads on how to contact Venditte for advice. Venditte’s accomplishments even inspired Alex Trautner from Danville, Calif., to enroll at Creighton and follow in Venditte’s footsteps.
"When he was at Creighton actually, I think I was in second grade," Trautner said. "I actually sent him a ball when he was here and he signed it and wrote me a nice letter back. I just said, ‘Hey, I’m like you. I’m trying to do this ambidextrous thing, too.’”
Trautner is expected to redshirt this year as a freshman and further develop his pitching skills. If Venditte makes it to the bigs, he’ll have a chance to be the first Major League pitcher to throw from both sides since Greg Harris, who played for eight teams from 1981 to 1995.
This segment aired on February 14, 2015.