A sudden stop to the baseball season because of a major health concern is a novelty to most people, but not to Pat Venditte.
Last year the 34-year-old Omaha, Nebraska, native was playing for the San Francisco Giants’ AAA team in Sacramento when something totally unexpected occurred. His wife, Erin, who was otherwise healthy, suffered a brain hemorrhage. This cut short Venditte’s season and it reminded him, like nothing else could, of the importance of relying on God for help.
Despite Venditte’s successful collegiate career at Creighton University and his extensive pro career — including his AAA All-Star Game appearance with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2018 — he knows that baseball will not be there forever. With the MLB season delayed indefinitely, that is being underscored for him once again.
Venditte remains busy — perhaps even busier than he would have been playing baseball — with his wife and two small children. He recently spoke of the importance of family, faith and fortitude — and also “The Pat Venditte Rule” — as the possibility of a season with the Marlins looms in the distance.
Being an ambidextrous pitcher is unusual, even to the point that a new rule was introduced because of you.
Baseball fans are familiar with switch-hitters such as Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones, but a switch-pitcher is rarer. In 2008, during my first pro outing, I encountered a switch-hitter. We kept changing sides of the plate and pitching hands in order to get an advantage on the other, since right-handed batters usually do worse against right-handed pitchers, and so on.
After so much switching, the umpire finally said the batter would have to declare which side he would bat from and then I could adjust accordingly. The batter struck out, and we won the game; but, a couple of weeks later, the umpires got together and made a rule that pitchers would have to declare which hand they’d pitch with and the batter could adjust accordingly.
I think they just wanted to decide quickly on how to proceed, so that was that. It’s not something that comes up too often, but it’s a funny little piece of trivia.
What was it about baseball that drew you in more than other sports?
My father was big into baseball, so we spent hours playing catch and doing baseball drills, along with drills from other sports — but really done for the purpose of making me a better baseball player. All that work had to pay off in one way or another, but in order to get all the way to the big leagues, some kind of natural build and strength are needed, and you need divine Providence, since there are so many things outside your control.
Speaking of those things beyond your control, how are you handling all this unexpected down time?
You can never take anything for granted in baseball. There are so many sudden changes and quirks that other sports don’t have, or at least not to the same degree. Even for baseball, though, this has been a crazy season so far — if you can even call it a season.
Most people aren’t sick [in the country from the coronavirus], but Major League Baseball is really going out of its way to make sure more people don’t become sick. It might seem like overkill to some, but we had a health scare last season that kind of prepped us for this season.
What was that?
My wife was totally healthy and with family in Wisconsin for the 4th of July while I was playing with the Sacramento River Cats, the Giants’ AAA team. She started to get headaches out of nowhere and then was taken to the emergency room. It turned out she had a brain hemorrhage, so I left the team and flew to Wisconsin. Not knowing what to expect on that trip back was very scary.
Thankfully, though, she recovered just fine. The doctors think it will turn out to be a one-time thing, which is more than you can say for a lot of the patients in the neuro ICU at the hospital. That’s a really sad place, since there’s a lot of loss of cognitive and motor function, and even death.
My teammate, Ty Blach — who also played for Creighton, but after my time there — was in Sacramento and about to leave the team himself, yet he jumped right in to help us out. He packed up everything in my fully furnished apartment and had it shipped to Wisconsin. It’s not something he’d bring up on his own, but it shows how selfless a player and man he is.
Ty said he was surprised at how many good people are in pro baseball.
There are some people you see behind the scenes that you wouldn’t want to hang around, but, more often than not, there are lots of good people in baseball. You can find good players who are good people; they’re unselfish, giving and positive — always looking to make a contribution in one way or another.
Aside from Ty Blach, it seems like you know lots of other Catholic baseball players.
No doubt. I’ve known Tyler Cloyd for a long time. We played against each other in high school and then in college, and in the pros we’ve crossed paths seemingly every season. I worked out with him recently, and he has been with lots of different teams, like I have.
I roomed with David Phelps in 2008, when we were both rookies for the New York Yankees. He had attended Notre Dame, and I had attended Creighton, so we were two young Catholic pitchers with the best-known baseball organization in the country.
In 2016 I was teammates with Justin De Fratus and Joe Wieland in AAA with the Mariners. Justin had been with the Phillies, while Joe had been with the Dodgers, and I ended up with the Phillies in 2017 and then with the Dodgers in 2018. Those two guys have worked hard and have been with lots of teams, too.
My Dodgers experience included playing with Kyle Farmer in Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, and he was fun to be around. He was the same person every day: kind and willing to work with you to be in a position to be the best pitcher possible.
Back home in Nebraska, there’s a strong Catholic population, so the Catholic athletes go beyond baseball. I’ve also known about Olympic gold medalist and Ph.D. Curt Tomasevicz and NFL kicker Greg Zuerlein. Greg is a totally remarkable kicker, and I actually know his uncle, Father Damian Zuerlein. He baptized our two children — our boy, who is 3, and our girl, who is 1.
Family is very important to you.
My grandparents and parents taught me the difference between right and wrong and provided me with a good, stable upbringing. Going to church on Sunday was an automatic thing, which brought a heightened sense of community that was already in play during the week. A Catholic spirit permeated what we did, and that’s the ideal I’d like to provide for my own children.
They have enough energy to keep me and my wife busy, even as the baseball season is postponed. It’s really important to harness their energy and give them a framework that gradually produces clear expectations, consistency and stability.
That brings to mind my grandmother, who lived to be 97. She would always have EWTN on when we visited. It was just an automatic part of her life. Catholicism gave meaning to everything she did, so EWTN was her go-to station. We always knew what to expect at her place.
That type of thing probably gave you a lot of stability, even as things didn’t go well in life.
There are times in everyone’s life where there’s nowhere else to turn but toward heaven. Those times underscore how there are much more important things than baseball or whatever a person’s career might be. This life is so short, and a totally different world — a world that never ends — awaits us.
Your first name is Patrick, and your middle name is Michael, but do you have any patrons besides them?
St. Jude is the patron of hopeless cases, so I pray to him for help. I know his intercession is powerful before God, so I trust that he will take my imperfect prayer and make it a petition pleasing to God. It might seem impossible for people to keep things going well under the odd circumstances we’re in, but that’s all the more reason to ask for heaven’s help.
How are you dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal level?
Our sense of immediate community is increased this year, since there are a select few family members and friends we’ll be seeing a lot of, and even despite the relative isolation, we can understand that everyone else is going through the same thing. That brings a sense of community, despite the direct, outward realization of it not being accomplished.
Regardless of whatever corner of the world we’re in, God wants us to make the most of what we’re given. The Parable of the Talents is about just that — using what we have for the good of our own souls and also the good of other souls.
Even if we can’t do all that we want to do, we can always do something, however insignificant it might seem. Then that can grow into good things we never thought possible.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015),
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.
His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.