Pat Venditte’s major league debut was such a monumental occasion from a national perspective.
The best part for the A’s ambidextrous reliever, personally, had to be just how non-eventful the outing actually was. Venditte breezed through two scoreless innings in Oakland’s 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox, registering five outs pitching right-handed and one as a southpaw.
With that, he became the first full-time “switch pitcher” to throw with both hands in a major league game in the modern era (from the year 1900 on). Greg Harris, a right-hander, threw left-handed in one game in his final season of 1995 with the Montreal Expos.
After Friday’s game, the 29-year-old Venditte told reporters he was less concerned with the history he made and more proud of the fact he cracked the majors after seven-plus seasons of toiling in the minors.
“You play it over 1,000 times in your head how it’s going to happen,” Venditte said. “To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of it. Just a lot of emotions, being able to tell my family and friends that the work is starting to pay off.”
A 20th-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2008 out of Creighton University, Venditte rose as high as Triple-A in New York’s system before signing a minor league deal with Oakland last winter. All of his spring training outings were such a spectacle, as Venditte took the mound wearing his custom-made Mizuno glove that features two different pockets and two thumb slots, so he can easily switch the glove from hand to hand during an inning.
Venditte is a natural right-hander, but his father, Pat Sr., began teaching his son to throw with his left hand when he was just 3. When Venditte was 7, his father traced an outline of his hand, faxed it to a factory in Osaka, Japan, and his first ambidextrous glove was designed based on that fax.
Pat Venditte Sr., spent several weeks in Arizona watching his son pitch in spring training. He also was in attendance Friday night at Fenway, as was Venditte’s mother, his wife and his in-laws. The reliever was called up from Triple-A Nashville earlier Friday when Dan Otero was optioned to the minors.
Venditte told reporters he never considered throwing in the towel despite toiling so many years in the minors.
“Obviously seven years is a long time to stick it out,” he said. “But I love the game and I love being a part of it. It’s just been a long haul. … I have a very supportive family and friends back home, and a great wife that has put up with the minor league lifestyle. But it’s been a fun journey. It’s taken us all over and I’ve met great people. So I don’t regret a second of it.”
Venditte entered to begin the seventh inning Friday and threw from the left side against the left-handed hitting Brock Holt, retiring him on a grounder to first. He switched to the right side and gave up a one-out single to Hanley Ramirez but quickly erased him when he coaxed a double-play grounder from Mike Napoli. Then Venditte buzzed through a 1-2-3 eighth, pitching as a righty against three right-handed hitters, and capped that inning with a strikeout of Blake Swihart on a 73 mile-per-hour changeup.
Preparing for that at-bat against the switch-hitting Swihart proved Venditte’s biggest challenge. The A’s coaching staff had instructed Venditte beforehand to pitch right-handed and force Swihart to hit from the right side. As rules dictate, before the at-bat Venditte declared to home plate umpire Clint Fagan which arm he would use.
Only problem was Venditte made the honest mistake of signaling he would pitch left-handed at first, which prompted a quick discussion with Fagan to declare he actually wanted to throw right-handed.
“That was my mistake,” Venditte said. “I faced (Swihart) last year in Double-A and remembered pitching against him left-handed. When I got here today, they decided for me to go from the right side. I made a mistake at first, just had a mind lapse.”
That was about all that didn’t go right on a night he won’t soon forget.