MOUNT VERNON — He is so rare that his parents had to get him a specially-made baseball glove with four fingers and two thumbs. Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets’ pitcher Tristan Taylor is really two pitchers in one. Mostly used as the Jackets’ set-up man, Taylor is an ambidextrous, switch pitcher.
He gets funny looks from opposing teams, who stare at his six-digit glove and do a double-take as he throws a few warm-up tosses with his right hand, and then turns around, puts the glove on his other hand and throws comfortably with his left hand.
“I get a lot of reactions from a lot of people,” Taylor said. “Sometimes they’ll just stare.”
His coach, Nate Hunt, hears the questions from opposing coaches and parents.
“The other week, a coach said, ‘He can throw right-handed?,’” Hunt said. “I said, ‘Yeah, he can throw right-handed and left-handed,’ and told me, ‘I can’t even eat cereal left-handed.’ So it’s kind of cool. The opposing dugout just looks at him like, ‘He’s not gonna do that, is he?’
“We were down in a tournament in Florida last year, and we sent him in. The other team’s dugout was like, ‘Whoa! He can’t do that!’ Yeah, it’s fun. The best part is that he’ll go out there, switch hands and strike a couple of guys out. Then, he’ll go back into the dugout, sit down and not say a word. To him, it’s just a way of life. The best part is, that he is effective for the team.”
Hunt comes to each game fully prepared for all questions.
“I keep the rule book with me,” Taylor said. “If you look at my copy, it’s all whited out, except for the part of the page about ambidextrous pitchers, which is not very big.”
Under the rules, a switch pitcher must choose which arm he will throw with at the start of each at-bat. He must continue to use that arm for the duration of that at-bat and can only change when the next batter comes up. Often, the decision of which arm he throws with is based on whether the batter he is facing is left-handed or right-handed. Under the rules, if a switch-hitter comes to the plate, a switch-pitcher must decide which hand he will throw with before the batter decides which side to bat from. The pitcher must stay with that side throughout the at-bat.
The opposing batter’s preference is not the only factor affecting what hand a switch-pitcher decides to throw with. It could be an injury to one arm, fatigue on one side or perhaps one of his pitches is a little off that day.
“Usually, if I have a problem on one side, I’ll just flip over,” Taylor said. “That way, it’s not a problem.
“It started as an experiment in hand-eye coordination,” Taylor said. “As I got older, it got more serious as I went and I got better at it. As I got older, I went around with a righty and a lefty gloves.”
His father, Mount Vernon pitching coach Dean Taylor is an athletic trainer.
“It was just something to help Tristan have improved coordination.” the elder Taylor said. “In any sport, where you rotate, it just makes sense to train the other way. A few years ago, golfer Vijay Singh talked about how he would train by hitting balls left-handed and that helped him to be strong right-handed. It makes a lot of sense. If you only rotate one way, then you are only training one side of the body.”
Then, a few years ago, the younger Taylor got his first six-finger glove. They had to buy it online from 44ProGloves — a custom glove manufacturer.
“It’s a pretty rare thing,” he said. “It’s easy to slip off one hand and on the other.”
Taylor really is two distinctly different hurlers, depending on which side he throws with. From the left side, he throws a cut fastball. From the right side, he has a sinker.
“I also have a really good curveball on my left side,” Taylor said. “I’m more of a power guy on the right side.”
From both sides, Taylor depends on location to get outs and set the table for the closer.
“Location is the key to get guys out,” Taylor said. “You have to go inside on some hitters and out on others, in order to get them out.”
Taylor is as versatile around the rest of the field as he is on the mound. He is a switch hitter at bat. He is a utility man, who plays in the infield or outfield when he isn’t pitching. When he plays out in the field, he does so as a right-hander. When he is on the mound, however, fielding takes a little more thought.
“Sometimes, I have to think about which hand my glove is on,” Taylor said. “I have to set my feet depending on which hand I’m throwing with. It’s just something I’ve managed to overcome.”
Of course, throwing with both hands is good for both hemispheres of the brain. Perhaps that is why Taylor’s favorite subject is math. The junior is looking at a medical career, perhaps as a doctor.
Getting to see a switch-pitcher is a rare experience. If you go to a Yellow Jackets’ game, you may want to ask Taylor for his autograph. If you do, you’re in for a treat.
“I write with both hands,” Taylor said.
There have been a few switch pitchers like Taylor at the high school level. At the professional major league level, they are such a rarity, that they have only come along at the rate of one per century. Pat Venditte, listed on the San Francisco Giants’ 40-man roster and currently assigned to their minor league affiliate Sacramento River Cats, is the only pitcher since 1901 to regularly switch-pitch in the major leagues. The 33-year-old Venditte has been on four major league rosters since 2015, compiling a 2-2 record and a 4.45 ERA with 51 strikeouts.
Before that, you have to go back to the 1894 Cleveland Spiders and an Irish immigrant, named Tony Mullane, from the city of Cork. He won 284 games and had a 3.05 ERA for seven teams from 1881 to 1894 — most notably the Cincinnati Red Stockings. He won 30 games in five consecutive seasons. He is currently in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and is one of the most successful major league players that is not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Mullane was the most successful switch pitcher of all time.
Greg A. Harris, a journeyman pitcher, played from 1981 to 1995, but his teams did not allow him to throw with his left hand until the next to last game of his career. He faced two batters, pitching with his other hand for the Montreal Expos in 1995. Harris was the only major leaguer to switch pitch in the 20th Century, but he was not a regular. His two-thumbed glove, however, is on display in Cooperstown.
Just in case you were wondering, Taylor confirmed that he eats cereal with his right hand, but he had to think about it before saying so.