A Baseball Oddity: The “Switch Pitcher”

Pat Venditte Brings His Unique Talent to the Buffalo Bisons

by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell

For a guy who has spent most of his playing career in the minor leagues, with just two major league callups – last year to the Oakland A’s, where he appeared in but 26 games, and earlier this season a brief stint from Buffalo up to Toronto, relief pitcher gets more than his share of interview requests. In fact, when Artvoice requested a chance to meet the player for a sit down, Bisons public relations director Brad Bisbing responded, “you do know one of the TV stations is already doing a story, right?”

Well actually, two Buffalo TV stations.

Such is the fame and celebrity of Pat Venditte, who was signed to the Toronto Blue Jays last fall after being waived by Oakland, and has been assigned to Buffalo’s AAA roster.

The ambidextrous Venditte brings a special skill to the playing field, and in fact, one that no player has managed to do in Major League Baseball since 1894. He is a “switch pitcher”, capable of throwing from either the left or the right hand.  And in fact, to hone his craft, over the years he has had a specially produced baseball glove made for him with four fingers and two thumbs, to allow him to seamlessly switch from right to left as the situation warrants.

A true switch pitcher: Pat Venditte pitches with his right hand.  Photo courtesy Buffalo Bisons.
A true switch pitcher: Pat Venditte pitches with his right hand. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bisons.

“Well not that seamlessly,” Venditte laughs as he poses with his glove on a sun drenched practice afternoon at Coca Cola Field. “When I first started professional baseball it caused quite a stir”.

Venditte refers to his debut with the NY-Penn League Staten Island Yankees back in 2008. Venditte was called into the game in relief to face a switch hitter, and started his warm up tosses, switching from hand to hand. “An argument ensued, more like a discussion,” says Venditte. “Before the game started, our coordinator said, ‘There’s no rule in place. Just go back and forth until they make you do something’”. Once into the game, the umpires, not having any guidance or rules to direct them, finally ordered Venditte to throw right handed and the hitter to hit right handed. The result? “I struck him out.”

The MLB rules committee eventually caught up with the situation, and in 2015 adopted Rule 5.07(f), which in essence states that a pitcher must indicate to the umpire which hand he intends to use when every batter steps up to the plate, and then the batter, if a switch hitter, gets to select what side of the plate to swing from. The pitcher can not change hands during that at bat unless an injury prevents him from using the original hand.

It has been named “The Pat Venditte Rule”.

“I don’t get sick of the questions. It’s kind of different and I understand it,” says Venditte who receives constant requests from media and fans to display his glove and share his story. “Any time you go a new city, a new market, now Canada is involved. To me it’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s just what I do. But I can understand how people can be fascinated, and wondering how a player can do something like that.”

Was the coaching and learning aspect of Venditte’s special talent something deliberate, or just randomly came about? “For me, I knew that my path to the major leagues was to be able to develop a skill that would allow me an advantage in pitcher versus hitter matchups. I’m thankful my dad (who coached Venditte as a youngster) did it. For me a 90 or 95 mile per hour fastball has not been a part of my life. So some of this is genetic based. I’m just glad I am able to get a left-on-left or right-on-right advantage.”

Pat Venditte pitches with his left hand.
Pat Venditte pitches with his left hand.

And having a rule named after you, long after your playing days are over, has to be pretty cool. Right? Venditte says, “Yeah it is pretty cool. And it’s something I’ll probably appreciate more once I’m retired from the sport. Right now I don’t appreciate it that much because I’m still trying to make my way, and trying to get to the big leagues again and stay there as long as I can.”

Venditte got his first taste of Toronto last month, appearing in relief in five games with the Blue Jays before being returned to Buffalo. “Definitely a different feel there, than in Oakland,” said Venditte, where he knows expectations are high for a return to the postseason after falling short of a World Series berth last October. “I really felt that when I walked into the clubhouse in spring training. I saw guys like (Jose) Bautista and (Josh) Donaldson go to work, really leaders that lead by example. It is something I had never seen before in my limited major league experience. Here there is a different level of expectation.”

As for Buffalo? “I love this city, I’m very familiar with this city and it’s a great place to live, the whole ballpark and surroundings. My wife and I are loving it. And if I’m not up in Toronto, this is a good place to be at.”

AROUND THE BASES…

-43 year old pitcher Bartolo Colon of the New York Mets, known best here in Buffalo as having thrown the only no hitter for the Buffalo Bisons in Coca Cola Field history back in 1997, can now add another accomplishment to his storied repertoire. This past Saturday he hit his first ever career home run.