Metro Morning

Blue Jay Pat Venditte might be baseball's only switch pitcher, how did that happen?

Blue Jays reliever Pat Venditte might just be a one-of-a-kind pitcher for boasting a dual skill set that Major League Baseball has never seen before — he can pitch with both arms.

A Toronto kinesiologist explains what it takes to be ambidextrous

Pat Venditte started throwing with both with both hands at the age of 3, now he's a switch pitcher for the Blue Jays. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
Blue Jays reliever Pat Venditte might just be a one of a kind pitcher for boasting a dual skill set that Major League Baseball has never seen before — he can pitch with both arms. 
Venditte is seen pitching right handed, top, and left handed, bottom, during a spring training baseball game in Dunedin, Fla. (The Associated Press/Frank Gunn)

The 30-year-old is a switch pitcher, meaning that he's ambidextrous enough to pitch right-handed and left-handed, and he can do it at a professional level.

The feat forced MLB to create a new rule when he started playing in the league in 2008 and left many people wondering how he was able to do it.

Among the ranks of fascinated fans is Toronto kinesiologist, David Frost, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. He's been in awe of Venditte ever since he saw a video of him pitching online three or four years ago.

"He's doing something incredible," Frost told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday. "It would be like playing guitar with the opposite hand. It just doesn't work for most people." 

Frost said watching Venditte pitch was immediately intriguing to him, both as a huge baseball fan and as a researcher. 
David Frost says that watching Venditte pitch was immediately intriguing to him as both a "huge" baseball fan and a researcher. (Metro Morning/CBC)

"I wanted him in my lab," said Frost. "If we were able to study him and figure out how has he learned to be so proficient on both sides, there are probably a lot of things we could apply to other athletes."

That's the kind of work that Frost does at U of T. He brings world class performers into his lab to figure out what makes them great, so that their techniques can then help recreational athletes improve their game.

So how does Venditte do it?

A natural right-hander, Venditte started throwing with his left arm when he was three-years-old, at his father's behest. A fact, that Frost says is key to understanding how the 30-year-old pitcher does what he does. 
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, right, says that it's "so cool" to see Venditte work on the pitching bound. (The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

"We all tend to have a dominant side so we develop habits and behaviours over time, but he's kind of opposed that and been very deliberate in making sure he can bring [his] left and right side along," Frost told host Matt Galloway.

"It requires a lot of training, the way he activates his muscles, the way his brain is sending signals to his muscles, the way he's moving," said Frost. "He has to prepare both sides of the body in the same way."

 "It would be like playing guitar with the opposite hand. It just doesn't work for most people."- David Frost, U of T kinesiology prof

Frost still has a laundry list of questions he'd like to ask Venditte, including how he started the process of throwing with both hands as a kid and what exactly he did to practice. 

"Pitching is an incredibly complex skill and so to develop the proficiency he has, that takes years and years and years of practice."

Practice that Venditte himself says continues to this day, calling the switch pitching "a work in progress" at spring training with the Blue Jays in Florida last month. The Toronto team claimed Venditte off of waivers from the Oakland Athletics in the off-season. 

The new pitcher immediately impressed his teammates. 

"It's so cool to have that guy in my [bullpen] group and see him work," said starter Marcus Stroman. "That's a completely unique talent on its own."

Keep an eye on your local diamond

So why aren't there more switch pitchers in the game, when switching hitting is fairly common? Frost says that most people probably didn't think it was possible or wouldn't even consider the years of dedication it would require from a young age. But now that Venditte has trail blazed his way into the majors Frost thinks that could change. 

"What you might see now because of him is a lot of kids trying to play with both sides and develop the coordination with both hands," said Frost. 

Frost would still love to get Venditte into his lab to unravel the mystery behind how he got so good at pitching with both hands — so the invitation is out there.

"If you look at the way he pitches on the left and right side, even right now, it's a little bit different," said Frost. 

"It isn't the exact same, so it's absolutely fascinating."

With files from the Canadian Press

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