July 17th, 2024

Why only use just one arm: Mavericks’ ambidextrous pitcher proud of his abilities

By JAMES TUBB on June 14, 2024.

NEWS PHOTOS JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Mavericks ambidextrous pitcher Jon Shields unleashes a pair of pitches from both the right and left side in the Mavs' 13-0 loss on June 3 at Athletic Park to the Fort McMurray Giants.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Jon Shields has gotten used to the weird looks he gets on the mound. The Texas product just waves them off, using his right arm. Or left arm. Whichever one he isn’t pitching with at that time.

The Medicine Hat Mavericks pitcher has the unique ability of being an ambidextrous pitcher, meaning he pitches with both arms.

It’s an ability Shields picked up when he was six years old being coached by his dad. He says he thanks him for the lessons whenever he can.

“I was a natural lefty, so I was playing first base and we didn’t have a second baseman or shortstop,” Shields said. “So my dad made me start throwing righty just as much as I was throwing lefty every day, and it just kind of took off from there.”

He throws mostly left handed, feeling more control from his natural side, and it’s the more efficient side for pickoffs with a runner on first base. Shields says his right arm is more for relief, switching sides when he gets tired or he feels he’s getting wild from the left.

When it comes to training, Shields says neither arm is more difficult than the other and that it’s taken a balanced approach to get where he is today.

“I don’t want to say I do double the work than the average one-arm (thrower), but it takes a lot of work because it’s balancing,” Shields said. “At the same time, you only have one central nervous system. So you can’t, like, overload anything. So it’s a lot.”

Shields’ left and right arm abilities translates throughout his life. He writes with his right hand but eats left-handed. He kicks with his right leg and plays golf left-handed.

“It’s a little weird,” Shields joked.

He has to get gloves custom-made with six fingers so he can switch from side to side.

Shields has learned to take any of the chirps from opposing dugouts or questionable looks as a compliment, growing his pride in the ability to pitch with both arms. He does it not only because it’s unique, but because he wants to help whatever team he’s on with all he’s got.

He’s appreciated the Mavs for letting him pitch how he wants to, and not question his ability.

“A lot of coaches have said, “We don’t necessarily want you doing that,'” Shields said. “But these coaches here have, they’ve been really supportive, and I really, really appreciate them.”

Shields has thrown four innings with the Mavs this summer, all in relief. He’s recorded seven strikeouts with a 2.24 ERA.

He’s pitched at Athletic Park once this season, working 1.1 innings in a 13-0 loss to the Fort McMurray Giants on June 3. Head coach Kevin Mitchell liked his performance then and the looks he received when Shields threw from both sides.

“I was glad he threw the glove on the other hand and decided to go with this right there, I think it caught a lot of people off guard,” Mitchell said “I don’t know if the other team was ready for it. But he seemed composed, he was in the zone and his stuff looks good.”

Shields has to follow the same rules on the mound as switch pitcher Pat Venditte, who popularized the ability in Major League Baseball. He has to declare which arm he is going to throw with before every at bat.

Shields called Venditte his idol and says he’s followed him since he was a child. He met him at a game in Oakland once and Venditte signed his glove and shared some tips of the trade with him.

“His message was, a lot of coaches are not going to be OK with it, but you just got to stick with it and just be you,” Shields said.

There was a famous article written about Venditte after he made his debut in 2015, The Associated Press penned it but the East Oregonian newspaper headlined it as ‘Amphibious pitcher makes MLB debut.’

The headline has been widely seen online and Shields himself has seen it. He confirms that like Venditte, he is both amphibious and ambidextrous.

“I can swim a little,” Shields said.

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