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Ambidextrous Venditte turning heads

Ambidextrous Venditte turning heads

NORMAL, Ill. -- At first, Pat Venditte resembled hundreds of other collegiate pitchers. The Creighton University reliever entered Saturday's contest against Illinois State and started throwing left-handed. Every pitch was tossed sidearm and crossed the plate at 78-81 mph.

After a few throws, however, Venditte made a remarkable transformation.

He moved his glove to his left hand and started throwing right-handed. This time, every pitch was thrown over the top and hit the catcher's mitt at 88-91 mph. He repeated the process to three hitters, hitting a batter right-handed, coaxing a double play left-handed and striking out another with a right-handed curveball.

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"[Venditte] has the advantage with every batter," Creighton head coach Ed Servais said. "You don't have to go righty-lefty. He is a righty-lefty in himself. He is a bullpen in himself."

Venditte isn't a sideshow. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Venditte has garnered plenty of attention from the national media, including an appearance on ESPN's Cold Pizza and a front page A1 feature, complete with two color photos, in The New York Times. But the only ambidextrous pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball is also an elite reliever.

Tossing a sidewinding slider and fastball from the left side and a bottom-dropping curve and fastball from the right, Venditte is one of the best pitchers in his conference and presents a very interesting possibility to 30 scouting directors during the First-Year Player Draft. After tossing 3 2/3 shutout innings, including five strikeouts, in three games against Illinois State, Venditte is 7-2 with a 2.11 ERA -- and hasn't been scored upon in 23 innings.

Venditte leads the Missouri Valley Conference in appearances (32) and opponents' batting average (.192) -- a mark that bests several top collegiate pitchers from the MVC, including Missouri State ace and possible top-five draft pick Ross Detwiler. A junior, Venditte will likely play professionally this year or after the 2008 season.

"[Venditte] is very intriguing," an American League scout said. "A team will take a chance on him."

Venditte has been ambidextrous his whole life. When he was three years old, Venditte could throw and write with both hands. His father, also named Pat, harnessed that ability.

"Could a kid do it?" Venditte Sr. asked. "I got him young enough where he could do it. I took him out every single day, two or three times a day."

Helped by a Major League-quality backyard that included turf, net, lights, batting cage, radar gun and pitching machine, Venditte Sr. -- a natural right-hander -- had his son take groundballs left and right-handed and throw left and right-handed. He also kicked a football just to get used to a pitching motion.

"I am grateful he had me do it," Venditte said of his father.

Venditte Jr. started throwing with both arms in Little League and often confused coaches and parents. After one game, a coach walked over to his head coach with a compliment: "Those twins did a helluva job."

"Those weren't twins," Venditte's coach responded. "That was one guy."

In high school, Venditte pitched and played first base, which posed a problem for his dad. Finding a normal ambidextrous glove wasn't too difficult, as Louisville Slugger made an outfielder-esque mitt with four finger holes and two thumb holes. A first baseman's glove was a bigger issue, but Venditte's father called Osaka, Japan, and had a special glove made and shipped to the U.S.

"That was a thing of beauty," the elder Venditte said.

Venditte was a solid high school pitcher, throwing left-handed on Fridays, right-handed on Sundays and using both arms during the playoffs. Venditte received interest from NAIA Midland Lutheran and Division II Missouri Western University, but Creighton -- his hometown school -- didn't recruit him. He walked on after his father called Servais during the summer.

The phone call yielded a poor freshman year, but things changed a season later. Servais had been reluctant to allow Venditte to use both arms.

"We didn't want it to be a circus," Servais said.

But Venditte pitched so well left-handed and right-handed during the fall of his sophomore season that Servais allowed Venditte to switch off in the spring.

On Feb. 17, 2006, against Illinois-Chicago, Venditte used both arms for the first time in a collegiate game. He walked several batters, but eventually struck out the side.

"It was kind of crazy," Venditte said. "There were a lot of emotions going on."

A few months later, the ambidexterity caused controversy. A Nebraska Cornhuskers hitter went to the plate right-handed and Venditte went to his right hand. Then, the hitter moved to the left side of the batter's box, causing Venditte to step off the rubber and ask the umpire if he could switch. The umpire gave his approval, but the Nebraska coach immediately charged out of the dugout, citing an official rule that states a pitcher can switch arms only when the at-bat begins. Venditte, eventually, had to stay right-handed.

"Everyone was standing around, coaches, umpires, players, trying to figure out what to do," Venditte's father said.

Overall, Venditte threw in 30 games and posted a 3.02 ERA, but has improved this season. Helped by weight training and long tossing from 220-plus feet every day, Venditte has added several miles an hour to his fastball and emerged as one of the best pitchers in the conference, sparking interest from scouts.

Venditte could become the first full-time ambidextrous Major League pitcher. Greg Harris, a reliever in the '80s and '90s, threw one inning with both arms.

"He has improved immensely," Illinois State head coach Jim Brownlee said of Venditte. "I don't think he is as good left-handed, but it is still a pretty good weapon when he can switch over and face a left-handed-hitter."

"I think he is pretty good lefty on lefty, because he throws what I call a Frisbee slider," Servais added. "He drops down and he is really tough on left-handers. I like him better lefty on lefty."

Either way, two things are true: "The one-man bullpen" is unique and good enough that he should have a future in the pros.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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