Oklahoma City Dodgers pitcher Pat Venditte is the first full-time switch-pitcher to play professionally since the 19th century
Like most of us, Oklahoma City Dodgers pitcher Pat Venditte uses one dominant hand to eat and write.
What makes Venditte different? He is ambidextrous on the mound.
As a kid, Venditte’s dad, Pat Venditte Sr., tossed around the idea of teaching his son to throw with both arms.
“When I was three my dad had the idea,” Venditte recalled. “He said there were switch-hitters, so why not switch-pitchers? A lot of work and a lot of hours later, here we are.”
A natural righty, Venditte gained strength and motor skills in his left arm in a myriad of ways outside of throwing a baseball. Most notably, he threw a football left-handed and learned to play different musical instruments.
That diverse training allowed Venditte to have a similar delivery and repertoire with both arms.
“I mostly throw sidearm,” Venditte said. “Maybe a little more over the top right-handed.”
In his arsenal, Venditte, 32, features a fastball, slider and changeup from both sides. He will also sparingly throw a curveball right-handed. Venditte throws his fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s from the right side and low-to-mid-80s left-handed.
However, throwing with both arms isn’t the only difference in Venditte’s game.
In Little League, Venditte brought two gloves to the mound until an umpire deemed that unsafe. So, Pat Sr. traced Venditte’s hands and ordered a six-fingered, two-webbed glove from Japan that allowed Venditte to switch more easily. Thus, giving Venditte the proper tool to help him succeed.
“It’s one of those things that took a long time [to master],” Venditte said. “But when I was 20 and in college, I thought I might be able to do this as a profession.”
At Creighton, his hometown team located in Omaha, Neb., Venditte soared on the rubber. During his junior year in 2007, he led the Blue Jays in appearances (38) and ERA (1.88) while receiving All-American honors from three national publications.
That 2007 season became memorable in multiple ways, though. Creighton defeated Wichita State for its first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship. Venditte garnered the tournament’s MVP.
“They were our big rival back then,” Venditte said. “To bring that first one home and to play a helpful hand in that was very special — just because we worked so hard to get that done over the years. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Venditte finished his college career with the second-most appearances (110), sixth-most wins (21), fifth-most strikeouts (255) and fourth-lowest ERA (2.86) in school history.
“It was quite the experience,” Venditte said. “My freshman year I only had three or four games pitched. To [pitch] that many games in those three years after was very special for me. Especially going to all the games as a kid and going to the camps. Creighton baseball has been a part of my entire life. And to actually go there and be a part of the history there is unbelievable.”
Following his senior year, the New York Yankees drafted Venditte in the 38th round.
His first professional appearance June 19, 2008 with the Short-Season Staten Island Yankees was unlike any other. With the Yankees leading, 7–2, in the ninth inning, Venditte came in to close the game. He went on to make national news when he faced switch-hitter Ralph Henriquez of the Brooklyn Cyclones (who later played for the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2015). When Venditte went to pitch right-handed, Henriquez batted left. Venditte subsequently switched to pitch left-handed. Upon seeing this, Henriquez would go hit from the right side, trying to gain the advantage.
This went on for several minutes until Venditte, Henriquez, both managers and all the umpires got together to figure out a solution. The problem? Major League Baseball had not created a rule for that unique circumstance since a full-time switch-pitcher had not made it to the Major Leagues since the 19th century.
“The coordinator at the time, Pat Roessler, told me to keep switching back-and-forth till they decide something,” Venditte said. “That night they made the hitter decide first.”
With the right-on-right advantage, Venditte struck out Henriquez on four pitches to end the game.
“Even 10 years later, I probably don’t go two or three days without people saying that they saw that video,” Venditte said.
However, the advantage didn’t last long. Two weeks later, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation created “The Pat Venditte Rule.” This forces the pitcher to declare first, showing the umpire and batter with which arm he is going to throw.
Despite the rule, Venditte still dominated the New York Penn League his rookie year — pitching to a 0.83 ERA and converting all 23 save opportunities — winning the Short-Season Relief Pitcher of the Year award.
But like all baseball players, Venditte did endure his share of struggles.
“When I got to Double-A for the first time, I had a tough time,” Venditte recalled. “A really tough April and May.”
At one point, Venditte thought Double-A might be his ceiling. His pitching coach, Tommy Phelps, had other ideas.
“We would do little things each and every day till I got out of my slump,” Venditte said.
After starting the year allowing 12 earned runs in his first 10 appearances, Venditte only surrendered two earned runs over his next 14 appearances — lowering his ERA from 7.71 to 3.00.
“Tommy Phelps has made the biggest impact on my professional career,” Venditte said. “His positive attitude and influence were huge.”
Getting past those struggles and having more success earned Venditte a call-up to the Major Leagues with the Oakland Athletics in 2015.
Similar to his first pro ball experience, Venditte’s Major League debut was unusual.
“That day is a crazy story,” Venditte said laughing. “I got the call the night before and had barely any time to pack up and call my family before going to the airport.”
Due to multiple flight delays, Venditte “arrived in Boston at 6:30 with the game starting at 7. So, I didn’t get there till the second inning,” Venditte said.
“In Boston, you walk in with the fans at the main gates. I had to convince the ticket agent that I was on the team. I then went right to the dugout, to the bullpen and played a little catch.
“I thought they were going to give me the day off because they weren’t that thin on pitching,” Venditte said. “But five innings later, I was in the game, pitching at Fenway park for my first game. My wife and her family as well as my family got to the game, so it was a pretty special [debut].”
It was special, indeed. Venditte pitched 2.0 scoreless innings with a strikeout.
Now in his 13th professional season, Venditte is still baffling hitters.
With the Oklahoma City Dodgers, Venditte has a 1.50 ERA in 24.0 innings as of June 7. In addition, he did not allow an earned run from April 16-May 28 — spanning 18.0 innings. During the streak, the ambidextrous pitcher allowed only three walks and six hits to go along with 23 strikeouts.
Venditte has also pitched in four games with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season and appeared in 45 games at the Major League level.
Venditte has left a mark on the game few have done — with both arms.