Stuber throws right-handed and left-handed.
Story by Chase Burgess
Photos by Katelyn Olvera
Having a switch-hitter on your roster has become the norm in both college and professional baseball, but a switch-pitcher? That’s a different story. Austin Stuber, a junior Exercise Science major from Clearfield, Iowa, is a rare breed of pitcher. Stuber has the ability to pitch both right and left-handed.
“It’s mind blowing to me, seeing a pitcher put the glove on the other hand and throw a strike,” said Riley Schmitz, a freshman from Shelbina, Missouri. Schmitz performs most of the catching duties for Stuber in practice.
Stuber, who has been playing baseball since he was 4 years old, was born a southpaw, but he began throwing right-handed at the age of 5. He threw right-handed for the next seven years until one accidental discovery changed the way he looked at the game of baseball.
When Stuber was 12, he was rummaging around his family’s shed and found his old left-handed glove.
“When I found the glove, my dad explained to me how I switched from being left-handed dominant to being right-handed dominant in baseball,” Stuber said.
Stuber began pitching in sixth grade as a right-hander, but taught himself to throw left-handed in seventh grade to set himself apart form other pitchers. He spent hours everyday throwing fungo balls, practice balls, at a propane tank behind his house; working on his velocity and movement.
“I wasn’t coached a lot in high school. I learned to pitch mostly from my dad and from instructional DVDs.”
Stuber’s dad worked seven days a week as a maintenance supervisor at Michael Foods in Lenox, Iowa. However, that didn’t stop him from spending time with his son, bonding over America’s past-time. Whenever his dad had time off from work, he worked with Stuber on his form, release, and wind-up, specifically trying to get Stuber’s throwing motion identical with both arms.
After lettering three years in baseball at Lenox High School, Stuber went on to play at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. At IWCC, he earned two saves working as a closer in his freshman year en route to helping IWCC win the 2011 NJCAA national baseball championship. He suffered a torn-labrum (shoulder muscle) in the fall of his sophomore year and missed the entire 2012 season.
Although his pitching ability is rare, it is not unheard of. In high school, Stuber began watching film of another ambidextrous pitcher, Pat Venditte, to work on his throwing motion. Venditte pitches for the New York Yankee’s Triple-A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. He became famous after a 2008 minor-league game where he pitched against a switch-hitter. Both Venditte and the batter alternated which hand they would use for about 20 minutes. The home-plate umpire eventually made both the batter and the pitcher commit to one hand. Venditte is one of the few players in the history of professional sports to have a rule named after him. The Venditte rule.
According to milb.com, the Venditte rule essentially makes a switch pitcher commit to which arm he is throwing with, then the batter may commit to which side he bats from. The pitcher is not allowed to change his throwing arm until after he has made his pitch. The pitcher is allowed to switch arms only once per at bat. If the pitcher injures his throwing arm in a game, he is allowed to switch his throwing arm, but is not allowed to revert back to his injured arm for the rest of the game. The rule was instituted in the MLB and was quickly picked up by state and college baseball associations.
Stuber has taken full advantage of this rule when on the mound.
“When a young hitter watches you pitch right-handed from the on-deck circle, then sees you switch pitching arms when he steps up to the plate, it really messes with the mentality of the batter,” he said.
Stuber has a five-pitch repertoire when throwing as a righty, and a four-pitch repertoire as a southpaw. His fastball has hit 88 mph right handed, and 82 mph left handed. Stuber said that although he gets more speed throwing right-handed, he gets more movement throwing left-handed.
“He is valuable to the team because he can throw with one arm, and then come back and throw with the other,” said Brent Kalwei, a Mass Communication major from Kansas City. Kalwei is also a pitcher on the baseball team.
Since a left-handed pitcher uses a different glove than a right-handed pitcher, an ambidextrous pitcher needs a very unique glove. The glove that Stuber uses has six fingers. The six-fingered glove has two thumb slots, allowing the wearer to switch hands.
As if being a switch-pitcher isn’t unique enough, Stuber has multiple cameos in the 2010 horror film “The Crazies.” Stuber appeared first as a batter in the on-deck circle in one scene and then as an “infected” teenager punching a dumpster in another scene. The film was shot in the town of Lenox where he attended high school, a short five-minute drive from Clearfield.
“Missing a whole day of class to be in a movie was a great trade off,” he said.
Stuber is excited about the upcoming season and playing with this group of guys. He expects to come out of the bullpen for the Vikings in the spring. Like any college baseball player, Stuber has hopes of making it to the big leagues; but for now he’s just focusing on school and getting his degree at Missouri Valley. And if his baseball career doesn’t pan out, there’s always Hollywood.
Stuber’s six-fingered glove.