Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hitting coach hot from both sides

Vaeth makes self even more useful at practice with left-handed skill

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FARGO, N.D. -- Look ma, both hands!

The unemployed will do all kinds of drastic things to find work again. Some go back to school. Some open their own business. Some even move to new cities.

And Tom Vaeth? Well, he taught himself to be left-handed.

Seriously.

"Fear of unemployment, that's all it comes from," Vaeth said here Wednesday.

Vaeth, 38, is in his ninth season as a coach with the Goldeyes and has lived in Manitoba with his wife and two sons since 2006. But few Fish fans realize before he came up here, Vaeth worked five seasons with the Baltimore Orioles major league club, helping out during practices at Camden Yard.

Until, that is, the day the Orioles informed him he threw with the wrong hand.

"It was around June and they came and told me they needed another leftie to throw BP (batting practice) and so they wouldn't be needing my services anymore.

"So I went home and I started figuring out that there's not too many guys who can throw from the left and right side. And so I figured if I wanted to stay at that level and keep doing this kind of job, I better get myself all the advantages I can.

"And everybody said, 'You'll never do it, you'll never teach yourself' -- all the big-league coaches and big-league guys said it couldn't be done."

Which is, when you think about it, a reasonable position. While it is not uncommon to switch-hit in baseball, pitchers who can throw with either arm -- even practise -- are almost unheard of.

Fish infielder Brian Myrow, who has the most experience of any player on the Goldeyes roster with three seasons in the majors, says he only encountered it one other time in all his years in the game. "It's just not something you see," said Myrow. "But it's a valuable thing to have on a team. It's nice when we're facing left-handers in a game to have a guy throw BP for us left-handed."

Vaeth said there was no magic to teaching himself to do it -- only hours of practice. "I just threw buckets of balls. Found a wall, found a net, found someone to play catch with me and just threw one bucket after another.

"It wasn't as awkward as you might think, but it hurt like the dickens. I was using muscles I'd never used before. And then after awhile, people started saying, 'You know, it doesn't look that bad.'

"So at that point it was just a matter of stretching it out, lengthening the muscle and getting a feel for the release."

Vaeth threw a little bit of left-handed BP for the Goldeyes a couple of seasons ago -- but didn't do it much at all the last two seasons, saying it was just too physically taxing for him to throw as many as 500 pitches in a single practice from his unnatural side.

But Vaeth's been doing it again this season, every day the Fish face a southpaw -- and says it has never felt more natural. "For some reason, it's just felt really good this year," said Vaeth.

Fish catcher Alan Rick says Vaeth's accuracy and velocity from the left side are as good as from the right side and you'd be hard-pressed to tell that he isn't a natural left-hander if you didn't know.

"It's amazing really," said Rick. "If I threw a hundred times left-handed, I doubt I'd hit you in the chest twice."

Fish manager Rick Forney says Vaeth's self-taught ambidexterity simply adds to the package of talents he brings to the Goldeyes, including player recruiter, hitting coach and even, sometimes, psychologist.

"He's a really hard worker," said Forney. "He's here early every day and he's good about not just getting them in a routine to hit, but he also does a good job at pumping their tires when they're down. He's good at patting them on the back, but also being honest with them."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2011 C5

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