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updated: 4/9/2015 4:38 PM

Dual approach suits Carmel's Santoro

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  • Carmel's Joe Santoro has the ability to pitch both right- and left-handed, and frequently does so in games.

      Carmel's Joe Santoro has the ability to pitch both right- and left-handed, and frequently does so in games.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Carmel's Joe Santoro displays his left-handed delivery; he can also pitch right-handed.

      Carmel's Joe Santoro displays his left-handed delivery; he can also pitch right-handed.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Carmel's Joe Santoro displays his right-handed delivery; he can also pitch left-handed.

      Carmel's Joe Santoro displays his right-handed delivery; he can also pitch left-handed.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

For most of us, using our non-dominant hand to eat is a lot like using chopsticks rather than a fork.

You're curious to see if you can pull off chopsticks, but you eventually go back to a fork, because it's easier.

Most people would rather use their dominant hand to hold their utensils while they eat. Same for brushing their teeth, writing with a pen, shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball.

Carmel junior pitcher Joe Santoro, one of the most unique pitchers in the state of Illinois, isn't so picky.

He usually eats with his right hand, but he can use his left hand just as easily. He can go back and forth with brushing his teeth, too.

In fact, he makes a habit of switching up his "dominant" hand. He says that doing so, even for some of the most basic daily tasks, has made him a better baseball player.

"If I'm brushing my teeth, I'll usually use my right hand, but when I start to think about it, I'll make sure I use my left hand, too, just to work it a little bit," Santoro said. "I don't want to over-do or under-do one side, so I try to use both whenever I can. It helps with the fluidity of motion, and that helps with my pitching."

You've heard of switch hitters. Santoro is, for lack of a better term, a "switch pitcher." He is ambidextrous and can pitch from both the left and right sides with similar accuracy and velocity.

Hovering between 86 and 88 mph on both sides, the 17-year-old Santoro, a native of Mundelein who recently committed to Army, has been known to switch sides even within the same inning, from one batter to the next.

"As a manager, you've got to love that flexibility," said Carmel coach Dann Giesey, who has seen Santoro go 0-1 with a no-decision in his 2 starts this season. "But it almost presents a quandary for you because it becomes a question of how you're going to use this most effectively. How and when do you make it an advantage?

"Because this is nothing you've got experience with. No one does. You just don't see this. This is not normal. It's just so rare."

Santoro has done extensive research himself. He has found only two other pitchers in the entire country who can do what he does.

Ryan Perez, a junior at Judson University in Elgin, led Westminster Christian to the Class 1A IHSA state title in 2010 while pitching from both the right and left sides.

Pat Venditte is a minor league baseball player in the Oakland A's organization. He too can throw from both the right and left sides and is currently recognized as the only professional baseball player able to do so.

Venditte's ambidextrous abilities were so rare when he first turned pro that the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation was forced to address them specifically, ultimately devising the "Pat Venditte rule."

The rule states that "a pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher's plate. The pitcher is also not permitted to pitch with the other hand until a batter is retired," which means that he may not switch sides during a single at-bat.

"Last year, when I was a starter, I got two starts and in both games I pitched from both sides. I got a win in one of those games, against Marian Central," said Santoro, who wears a special glove that can be used on either hand and moves easily between the two. "I also went from both sides a lot at a showcase I went to last summer in Indianapolis. You get one inning to show what you can do, and I definitely wanted to show that intangible. I struck out a guy, got a couple of outs. That's where the Army coaches first noticed me. They said they were baffled by what I was doing on the mound. They said they were definitely intrigued."

Santoro was baffling people at a young age.

His parents finally had to get him checked out by a professional.

"My dad would play catch with me, probably starting when I was 3 years old, and I would pick the ball up with my left hand and throw with my right, or I'd pick it up with my right hand and throw with my left. And I kept doing that, using both hands for everything.

"Probably right before kindergarten, my parents took me to the grade school gym teacher to see if there was a test that could be done to help figure out what my handedness was. You had to close one eye and reach for a ball and it had something to do with which hand you used in relation to what eye was covered.

"I kept using the opposite hand that you were supposed to use. That's when it kind of solidified for my parents that, 'Hey, something's up here.' "

Santoro says it's always felt natural to use both hands and both sides of his body in dominant situations. That's why it was never a stretch for him to start pitching from both sides.

He never had to teach himself how to do it. The feel, the movement, the coordination for that was there already.

"I would pitch from both sides in Little League and people would have really funny reactions to it," Santoro said. "I could hear kids from the other team going, 'That kid's twin brother is on the mound now.' Or they'd say, 'They've got a new pitcher out there now.' Everyone would just be baffled when they realized it was still me out there, just pitching from the other side."

Besides a few slight variations, Santoro's style and form and technique on the right side is almost a mirror image of that on the left.

His curveball is better from the right side and his changeup is better from the left side, but for the most part, his delivery and efficiency is similar from both sides.

"Throwing from both sides comes naturally, but it's still difficult," Santoro said. "It's definitely still a work in progress. I haven't mastered it by any means.

"It's like any pitcher. You're always working to get better. You've always got little things you can do better. I've just got them on two sides, so I'm doing double the work."

The work has been well worth it for Santoro. He says his unique talent easily set him apart with college recruiters.

"It's kind of a novelty situation," Santoro said. "When you're in tournaments or showcases with hundreds of other kids, you need a way to make yourself distinct. Throwing from both sides did that for me. My hope was that at least I get a look because of that, then maybe, the coaches would be impressed with the other things I do."

Santoro had a long list of schools that were interested in him, including Northwestern, Villanova, Georgetown, Navy, Air Force and Maryland. But he went with Army because he liked the coaches and has always been intrigued by what it would be like to be an officer in the military.

"I don't know if I've ever had a dream school, but Army might be the closest thing to it," Santoro said. "It's the prestige of the school. And I don't want this to sound corny but I just love the United States, and I am honored that I am going to have the opportunity to protect it.

"I think all the time about all the freedoms I have here. Everything we do is a freedom that is protected by our military. I have the opportunity to play baseball because that freedom is protected."

Likewise, Santoro has the freedom to choose if he'll pitch from the left or the right side. And he'd like to exercise that freedom all the way to the major leagues.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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