Switch-pitcher placed on path early by dad
Venditte began training to throw with both arms at age 3
MESA, Ariz. -- Pat Venditte is one of the first arrivals in a swarming A's clubhouse each morning. He can almost always be spotted sitting at his locker, never hiding from the next reporter wanting a peek at his six-finger glove.
It's like clockwork, show-and-tell day on repeat. And the ambidextrous pitcher, who routinely throws to one batter with one arm and the next with his other arm, doesn't mind participating.
Venditte reaches for the Mizuno glove and proudly shares its Japanese origins -- his father traced his hand on a piece of paper and faxed it from Nebraska to Osaka for a custom-made fit when he was 7 -- and other bits and pieces of a story that's just as amazing as the people behind it.
Pat Venditte Sr. nearly said something, but he resisted. He was sitting in the stands watching his son pitch, and the way he remembers it, two men were chatting in front of him, both armed with a beer. One said to the other, "I thought that guy was just throwing right-handed, but now he's throwing left."
"Look," replied the friend. "You're driving. You better put that beer down."
Pat Sr.'s laughter is contagious, even through the phone.
"They were as serious as a heart attack," he said.
Then there was the time someone stopped his son's Little League coach: "Hey coach, those twins did a helluva job."
"He turns around," said Pat Sr., "and he said, 'Those aren't twins. That's one guy who can throw with both arms.'"
Deep at the center of his being is an immeasurable love for the game. A baseball-crazed man was a father transfixed by a baseball-crazed fantasy. Pat Venditte Sr. had the urban land to make it happen, to have a catch with his son on a ballfield in his own backyard. All he needed was a little help from his friends.
Pat Sr. was watching the news one evening when he learned of plans at neighboring Creighton University to install Astroturf at the sports complex. The vision was implanted. Why couldn't he perform a similar face-lift on his own grass?
The next day, Pat Sr. made the two-mile trek to the university and asked this of the man overseeing the project, informing him he planned to build a 70-foot-long batting cage outside his home. Concrete shopping soon followed. A family friend brought over a grader and even took little Pat for a ride in it, not fully realizing at the time that they were cementing the foundation for the 3-year-old-boy's future.
"We didn't have lights," said Pat Sr., "but that didn't take but a couple of weeks."
His brother-in-law, an electrician, installed them.
"After that," he said, "it was our field of dreams."
The sanctuary, nestled on Sixth Street in the Little Italy neighborhood of south Omaha, was accessorized with a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs.
Jim Hendry, then the head baseball coach at Creighton, before stints as Cubs GM and, currently, as special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, was in the market for a new pitching machine. So he sold the team's old one -- "He gave us a real good deal," says Pat Sr. -- to the Venditte family.
The radar gun came used, too, from the University of Tennessee, when the Volunteers were in town for the College World Series. But Pat Sr. can probably count on two hands the number of times he used it.
"There's no doubt in my mind that scouts today look at the radar gun as their god," he said. "But there are so many good athletes out there that can add so much to a team with their heart, their desire, their passion."
Baseball's only switch-pitcher didn't happen by accident.
"I don't remember a day when I only pitched one-handed," said Pat, who has thrown from both sides since he was 3.
His earliest memories bring him back to age 5, when his dedicated dad of four children -- ages 23 to 45 -- was already incorporating the motor skills necessary for him to effectively throw with both arms.
Each day, young Pat would step up to a kicking tee. He would place-kick, 25 times, from both sides. Repetition was everything.
"It sounds easy," his father said, "but try and punt with both feet. It requires 100 percent concentration.
"The brain was something that I didn't know a lot about, but I did know this, that muscle memory was very important. And for him to be able to lift both legs with equal strength, the right leg or the left leg, depending on which arm he was throwing with, would require something to master."
"My husband is a forward thinker," Jan Venditte said of Pat Sr., a batboy for the Triple-A Omaha Cardinals during Bob Gibson's stay in 1955-56. "He thought this would be unique and worth a try. I remember it very well, when we were in our front yard, and he said to me, 'What do you think if we let Pat pitch using both his left and right hands?' He thought it would get him ahead of the game and maybe give him a chance to play high school ball."
Maybe even college ball, too. They never thought beyond that. But Jan is now writing a book about an adventure that's still alive.
At home, where he was home-schooled through eighth grade with his two younger sisters by his mom, Pat learned to write equally well with his left and right hands. Jan also brought music into the house, and Pat played the violin and the trumpet, often performing the national anthem with his sisters before Triple-A Omaha games. He did theater, too, but insists he performed only in small roles, including a bum in "Annie."
Father and son began a daily training regimen that continued through high school, beginning with an early-morning gym session. Pat began to throw every day, 100 tosses with the right arm, 100 with the left. Pat Sr., who at age 69 is still catching in the Roy Hobbs Baseball League, was the perfect throwing partner.
It was at that time he retired as a schoolteacher, turning all of his focus to his switch-pitching son, who in high school would start one day as a left-hander and the next as a right-hander.
"I've realized this is something I have to do to compete at this level," said Pat. "With one hand, I don't really stand out. I'm extremely average."
After seven Minor League seasons with the Yankees, who drafted Pat twice, signing him in 2008 out of the 20th round, the switch-pitcher has a fresh start with the versatility-loving A's. His chances to make the big league club out of camp as a non-roster invitee are slim, but the 29-year-old Venditte believes he can eventually help this team.
Otherwise, he'd likely be in an office somewhere, making use of his marketing degree from Creighton.
"I'm not going to light up the radar gun. I'm going to get my opportunities based on results, and that's the way it's always been," said Pat, who throws a fastball, slider and changeup from both sides. "There are a lot of guys who throw fastballs with my velocity that don't get this opportunity to play professional baseball, and I've continued to get my opportunities because of results, and that's going to be no different here.
"As you get older, you start to think about things like, 'What am I doing here on this earth?' We're all put here for a reason, and right now, at this point in my life, baseball is that for me. It's been great to me. Obviously I haven't been in the Major Leagues like I want, but it's taken me around the world. Just not where I want to be yet."
"I can presume that his competitiveness, his demeanor, his poise, is as high as anyone else at the big league level," said his former Creighton teammate, Michael Lam, now finishing his medical residency in Denver. "He's so driven and so passionate. Even when we weren't on the travel roster, Pat would be pitching to his dad in full gear throwing bullpens. That just blew my mind."
Lam, who saw Pat for the first time in five years last weekend to watch him pitch against the White Sox, distinctly remembers the day he met him. Both were walk-ons and neither had the guts to step on the field their first day on campus. So they played long-toss in the parking lot.
"Pat was a better long-tosser than me," he said.
That ability, too, can be credited to Pat Sr., who believes those daily long-toss sessions led to his son's exceptional arm strength.
"A lot of people don't believe this," said Pat Sr., "but I saw it with my own eyes. We were at Creighton, and he threw a ball over the left-field fence right-handed, then threw one over the right-field fence left-handed."
Each distance measured 318 feet.