Monday, June 30, 2008

an ambidextrous pitcher?!

From Vincent Mallozzi in the New York Times (hat tip: Linda Christiansen and C-J)...

It was a lefty-righty matchup for the ages.

Make that a righty-lefty matchup for the ages.

Pat Venditte, an ambidextrous pitcher for the Staten Island Yankees, eventually got the matchup he wanted: right-hander vs. right-hander, which resulted in a game-ending strikeout after a long and bizarre pitcher-batter sequence — make that batter-pitcher sequence.

On Thursday night at KeySpan Park in Coney Island, the Yankees led the Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-2, when the 22-year-old Venditte, making his professional debut, strolled to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning and took part in his own version of the double switch.

Venditte, a switch-pitcher from Creighton who can reach 90 miles an hour from the right side and the high 70s from the left, retired the first two batters he faced while pitching right-handed.

Still pitching right-handed, Venditte allowed a single by Nicholas Giarraputo. Up next was designated hitter Ralph Henriquez, and he and Venditte engaged in a routine more vaudeville than Mudville.

As Henriquez walked to the plate, Venditte, assuming Henriquez would bat left-handed, stood behind the pitching rubber with his glove on his right hand and the ball in his left. Henriquez, looking out at Venditte, then stepped across the batter’s box, determined to hit right-handed and gain a righty-lefty advantage. Seeing this, Venditte quickly switched his custom-made glove to his left hand and put the ball in his right, hoping to gain a righty-on-righty advantage.

Henriquez stepped out and began asking the home-plate umpire, Shaylor Smith, to lay out his options, then summoned his third-base coach. With the matter unresolved, Henriquez again stepped across the batter’s box in an attempt to bat left-handed. Again, Venditte switched glove and ball. The cat-and-mouse game reached full comedic gear when Henriquez again strolled across the batter’s box to hit right-handed, and Venditte responded with the old switcheroo, setting up as a righty.

“My interpretation of the rule is that we each get to switch once,” Venditte said before Friday night’s Yankees game against Hudson Valley at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island. “After that, I thought I had the final decision.”

Pat McMahon, the Staten Island manager, and Edgar Alfonzo, the Brooklyn manager, trotted onto the field for a discussion with Smith, setting off a series of separate discussions by confused members of the teams, which are Class A affiliates of the Yankees and the Mets.

In the midst of those discussions, Venditte tossed warm-up pitches — with both arms.

“I don’t think the umpires really knew how to handle it,” Venditte said. “It’s not something you see every day.”

After a seven-minute delay, Smith ordered Henriquez to step into the box as a right-handed batter, and Venditte, now pitching right-handed, proceeded to strike him out, swinging.

When asked before Friday’s game if he had ever seen anything like it before, McMahon paused before uttering softly, “Uh, no.”

But Venditte, drafted this month by the Yankees in the 20th round, said he was involved in a similar situation during his sophomore year against Nebraska. In that game, umpires ruled that Venditte had to declare which arm he would use before throwing his first pitch and could not switch until the at-bat ended. Venditte decided to pitch left-handed, and a right-handed batter “hit a laser,” he recalled, “but fortunately, it was caught.”

McMahon, who said Friday that he was waiting for an official ruling from higher baseball authorities on the subject of switch-pitching to switch-hitters, said that the way he understood it, “the rule dictates that the hitter establish the box and the pitcher establish the throw, and then each team can make one move, and then it’s play ball.”

“That’s the rule that we got from the rule book of minor league baseball,” he said.

McMahon, who said he shared that interpretation with Smith before Friday night’s game and would go over it with umpires as part of ground-rules discussions before every game, tipped his cap to Venditte.

“I thought Pat handled it very well,” he said. “Here you had a switch-hitter facing a young man who throws with both arms. It’s a unique experience and one that players and umpires will probably take a little time to get used to.”


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