PHOENIX - Pat Venditte has been to Italy, if a while ago. Omaha, Neb., where he grew up, has one of the largest Italian festivals in the Midwest. So it was understandable that he would try to pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic -- if only with one arm.
Yankees prospect Venditte, 27, is a natural righthander whose father taught him at an early age to throw with his left hand, too.
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That made him a conversation piece in college and the minors and forced umpires to develop a set of rules to avoid a circus atmosphere of Venditte alternating arms and switch hitters flipping sides of the plate.
But he hurt his right shoulder in spring training last year with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, had surgery on the labrum in June and still hasn't tested it.
Fortunately, there's the other arm. And the Italian team.
"I knew the Classic was coming around," said Venditte, who played at Creighton University in his hometown, then was drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round in 2008.
"Literally two days after I was thinking of contacting people about the Classic, I got a call from a general manager in Italy who got me in touch with an attorney. We traced back my Italian heritage through documents, and I was granted citizenship to get my passport."
The maneuver is not unique, used by American athletes in the Olympics and other international events to represent countries from which their family emigrated.
Asked how much Italian he speaks, Venditte smirked and said, "Very little." Of course, it is the language of baseball he must master as a relief pitcher.
Venditte understands the disappointment for some that he won't be able to pitch both righty and lefty. "It takes away from the fans a little bit,'' he agreed. "They want to see it. But I've wanted for a long time to represent Italy in this kind of fashion. So even with just my left arm, it's a big opportunity."
His righthanded fastball has been clocked at 94 mph. But his best speed as a lefthander is 85 mph, and it's as a lefty that he'll be throwing in the Classic.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Venditte said of the Classic, which began this weekend at various locations and concludes with the championship game March 19 at San Francisco's AT&T Park. "Any time you can be one of 28 guys to represent a country, it's a pretty big honor."
The Italian team also is expected to include the Yankees' Francisco Cervelli, the Padres' Chris Donorfia and the Twins' Chris Colabello.
And please, Venditte said, don't doubt his affection for Italy.
"If people knew more about me," Venditte said, "they would know I come from a rich Italian tradition. My family's been a big part of the Santa Lucia Festival in Omaha and we're all in Sons of Italy."