Legendary baseball promoter Bill Veeck staged a plethora of unorthodox stunts during his half-century reign as the sport's greatest iconoclast. Chief among them was his use of 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel as a pinch-hitter, and he once had fans serve as managers by holding up "Yes" or "No" placards during a ballgame.
But Veeck, despite his propensity for outside-the-box thinking, never fielded a team that included something so outrageous as a full-time ambidextrous pitcher. It is fitting then that just such an individual is currently suiting up for the Charleston RiverDogs, who are co-owned by Bill's son Mike.
That pitcher is Pat Venditte, the RiverDogs' closer and a South Atlantic League All-Star. While his presence on the roster has nothing to do with Veeckian maneuverings and machinations (and everything to do with the top-down dictates of the New York Yankees' farm system), the RiverDogs are nonetheless determined to capitalize.
"When 60 Minutes came down to Charleston to do a profile on [Venditte], the producers asked Mike 'Is this a publicity stunt?'" RiverDogs assistant general manager Jim Pfander recalled. "We had to explain that, no, this is for real, and that he's a Yankee prospect like anybody else. But his abilities fit in perfectly with the way we do things. We're just thrilled that he's here."
The RiverDogs' way of doing things is to always live by the mantra of "Fun Is Good." So, naturally, they are having a lot of fun with Venditte. Whenever the 23-year-old switches hands while pitching, a corresponding sound effect from the ballpark staple, the "Cha-Cha Slide," is played over the PA. Fans are instructed to switch seats with a "slide to the right" or "slide to the left," depending on Venditte's latest maneuver.
The club discovered that another appropriate audio-visual accessory is to play clips from the movie "Princess Bride." When Venditte enters a ballgame, the character of Inigo Montoya is seen saying "I do not mean to pry, but you don't by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?"
This is a reference to Venditte's specially designed glove, which features six fingers so that he may switch back and forth between hands. And if Venditte changes from his left to right hand during an inning, Montoya is seen uttering the immortal line of "I know something you don't know. ... I am not left-handed."
And hard-core fans of ambidexterity will be very interested to know about the latest item in the RiverDogs' team store -- a reversible Venditte t-shirt.
"One side is gray, and it says 'Venditte No. 27, Right-Handed Pitcher,'" explained Pfander. "Then you can flip it inside out to where it's navy, and it says 'Venditte No. 27, Left-Handed Pitcher.' We have fans who flip their t-shirts every time Venditte changes hands. It's a grass-roots movement and will only grow since we just started selling the shirts last homestand."
With Venditte pitching so well -- he currently leads the league in saves and has an ERA of 0.94 -- his time in Charleston might not last much longer. But the RiverDogs are nonetheless considering a Venditte giveaway at some point in the future.
"Of course we'd want to do a bobble product, like a dual bobble arm," said Pfander. "Another idea we've kicked around is a six-fingered glove giveaway. Something like that would need a five- or six-month turnaround, however."
But whether Venditte's time in Charleston lasts another two days or another two years, he's already made a considerable impression on the franchise.