What happens when an ambidextrous pitcher faces off against a switch-hitting batter?
This may sound like an abstract philosophical query along the lines of "If a tree falls in the forest...," but on Thursday night in Brooklyn this baffling conundrum became all too real.
The Staten Island Yankees were leading the host Cyclones, 7-2, in the bottom of the ninth inning when Pat Venditte came in to close out the ballgame. Venditte, a 20th-round Draft pick who happened to be making his professional debut, is ambidextrous. The Creighton University product even uses a specially-made six-fingered glove that can be worn comfortably on either hand.
"I'm a natural right-hander, but since I was three years old I've worked with my dad to be able to pitch from the left side as well," said Venditte. "I don't throw as hard from the left side, but I feel that I'm equally effective. Bottom line is that I've always wanted to pitch."
Which leads us to Venditte's pro debut on Thursday. Pitching right-handed, Venditte induced a pair of groundouts to start the inning, and Nicholas Giarraputo then singled to center field to keep the game alive. This brought switch-hitter Ralph Henriquez to the plate, and that's when the fun began.
Henriquez had been swinging left-handed in the on-deck circle, so Venditte switched his glove to his right hand in order to face the 21-year-old backstop. Seeing this, Henriquez instead came to the plate batting from the right side. So, Venditte switched his glove back to his left hand. Henriquez then decided to bat lefty, and Venditte switched his glove yet again.
And on and on it went. This rather absurd (and highly amusing) game of chicken ultimately led to a prolonged conference between the umpires and coaching staffs of both teams. After much debate, Manriquez was made to bat right-handed against Venditte throwing right-handed. Manriquez then struck out on four pitches to end the game.
But the debate has just begun: How, exactly, is the New York-Penn League supposed to deal with Venditte's unique talents?
"My understanding was that both the batter and the pitcher could change their positions once," said Venditte. "But once we got beyond that, I had really no idea what would happen. Either way, it's not going to make or break me."
Justin Klemm, the Excecutive Director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC), is working hard to rectify this tricky situation.
"We're entering uncharted territory at this time, and right now it's simply our goal to be as fair as possible," said Klemm. "There is no reference to this type of situation in the MLB rulebook, but in the PBUC manual there is a rule which states that, 'In the rare occasion of an ambidextrous pitcher, pitcher and batter may change positions one time per at-bat.'"
While this is a step in the right direction, Klemm admits that there is still much to be sorted out. After all, it doesn't really matter how many times the pitcher and batter are allowed to change positions. What matters is who gets to make the final decision.
"The batter has generally been seen as the person who sets the precedent for the ball to be put in motion," remarked Klemm. "So, it's a possibility that the batter will have to commit first. What we're doing now is working through different scenarios in order to establish rules that are fair and won't make a travesty of the game."
New York-Penn League President Ben Hayes understandably shares Klemm's concerns regarding this rare situation, but also made a point to stress just how amazing Venditte's ability is.
"It's a very unique ability just to get to pro baseball in and of itself," said Hayes. "To be able to do so ambidextrously is just extraordinary."