It was the baseball equivalent of the perfect storm, the precise combination of factors that led to an at-bat that could have stretched to infinity.
Fortunately, the umpires stepped in, curtailing a lengthy “pas de don’t” between an ambidextrous Staten Island Yankee pitcher (yes, really) and a switch-hitting Cyclone.
Here’s what happened: On Thursday night, June 19, at Keyspan Park, the visiting arch-rival Yankees led 7–2.
Heading to the mound to pitch the ninth for the Baby Bombers, switch-pitching reliever Pat Venditte was about to make his professional debut.
Venditte has been throwing with both hands since he was 3, and he has a special six-fingered glove that can be worn on either hand.
The first two Cyclones’ hitters of the inning were right-handed batters, so Venditte pitched right-handed against them. He induced both Zach Lutz and Luis Alen to ground out.
Venditte pitched righty to righty Nick Giarraputo, but Giarraputo singled to center, bringing up switch-hitter Ralph Henriquez.
And then, the fun began!
Henriquez had been swinging left-handed in the on-deck circle, so Venditte switched his glove hand and was set to pitch left-handed to Henriquez. Not wanting the bad lefty/lefty matchup, Henriquez went back to hit from the right side. So Venditte switched his glove again, and Henriquez went back to hit left-handed.
Some fans were laughing, some were intrigued by the novel situation, and some fans were booing. Others didn’t know what the heck was going on!
Home plate umpire Shaylor Smith called time and conferred with first base umpire Tim Eastman, but they were in a quandary.
The Major League Baseball rulebook does not address the situation of a switch-pitcher versus a switch-hitter, but the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation (PBUC) does have a rule that states, “[I]n the rare occasion of a switch-pitcher facing a switch-batter, each can change positions once per at-bat.”
Venditte, who pitched with both arms at Creighton University, seemed to know that rule. At several points in the back-and-forth, he held up one figure to indicate that each player gets one change — and his should be the last one.
The problem with the PBUC rule is that it does not address the question of who commits first, the batter or the pitcher. This is crucial, because if both the pitcher and batter are allowed to switch sides once per at-bat, then whoever goes first, after each player switches once, is stuck.
The plate umpire finally told Henriquez to pick a side and stay there, so Henriquez chose to bat right-handed and Venditte pitched right-handed to him.
Showing a good curve, Venditte went 1–2 on Henriquez and then struck him out swinging on another curve.
“It was wild, man; it was incredible that he can actually do that [pitch with both arms],” said Henriquez. “I wasn’t trying to make a game of it. I was just trying to hit from the left side against the right, or the right side against the left.
“He had a really good curve,” added Henriquez. “The other players said my face lit up when I saw his curve.”
The next time Henriquez faces Venditte, the Cyclones’ catcher will have an easier decision.
“From now on,” said Cyclones’ spokesman Dave Campanaro, “the minor league rule will be that the batter has to decide on a side first, and both the batter and pitcher will be allowed to switch once per at-bat, so the switch-pitcher will get the advantage because the batter will have to commit first.”
Since the Cyclones will play 11 more regular season games against Staten Island, Brooklyn fans can look forward to see Venditte pitch with both hands, but with a lot less dancing from any switch-hitter in the batter’s box.