Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ambi-curious: The next step in our evolutionary cycle (OK, not really)

The story from a few days back about the switch-pitcher, Pat Venditte facing a switch-hitter, has naturally lent itself to all sorts of crackpot thinking.

The clip of the gamesmanship that went on between Venditte, a Yankees farmhand and Ralph Henriquez, from a game last month, really has to be watched to be fully appreciated. The story, which went out on the Associated Press wire, was largely treated as a one-off -- that only-in-the-minors story that gets e-mailed around among friends and is quickly forgotten.

What if there's something more to this than Venditte and his father, Pat Sr., trying to find an inroad into major-league baseball, the same way Tim Wakefield did when he became a knuckleball pitcher in the early '90s.

There's an article up about Venditte at that details how a guru named Michael (Hammerman) Lavery from Southern California (where else?) is promoting the concept of Whole Brain Power, which uses a series of exercises to stimulate each side of the brain (the logical/linear left side and the creative right side) and promote ambidexterity.

Lavery, an artist whose bio says he had a cup of coffee as a catcher in the Blue Jays farm system, has taught himself to be ambidextrous -- and he believes that in future generations, we could see all sorts of ambidextrous athletes -- baseball pitchers, tennis players, golfers, you name it. The article says he speaks with "messianic zeal when it comes to the effects that widespread ambidexterity could have in the world of sports." As you can see below, he comes off as a bit, uh, idiosyncratic, but what if he's on to something?

Of course, one person's messianic zeal is another's nuttier than a pecan log. That can't be stressed enough. Who knows, maybe the above clip would leave the neuroscience community in fits of laughter -- can't you just see a bunch of scholarly types in white coats and sensible shoes rolling on the floor right now?

Regardless, it is common knowledge that being left-handed is somewhat learned behaviour (most lefties were somewhat fluid in childhood before choosing the path that doomed them to a lifetime of messy handwriting and difficulty with handling a stick shift). Activities such as sport stacking can help develop ambidextry. Believing Lavery might be along the same lines as the junk thinking which has caused millions of people in North America to believe in intelligent design.

Reason and caution doesn't stand a chance against a sports geek's ental Wikipedia entry of ambidextrous athletes: Greg Harris, the Expos relief pitcher, used both hands during a game in 1995. In the early '90s, there was a quarterback at the University of Arizona, George Malauulu, who could throw with either hand. Gordie Howe could shoot from either side, and in the 1940s the NHL had an ambidextrous goalie, Bill Durnan, who's in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It wasn't so long ago that lefties were forced to "go right," and as we move into a more post-industrial age, people are performing fewer tasks which have to be done right-handed.

Gender is somewhat socialized, why couldn't it be similar for your dominant hand(s)? There's a little bit of that Fox Mulder I-want-to-believe element here, even if it is completely crackers.

(Incidentally, this can be spun into another item in the people's case vs. J.P. Ricciardi. How could he not have signed Venditte, whose college team is called the Bluejays? Think about the synergy!


Andrew Bucholtz said...

I like this idea a lot. Handedness certainly can be taught to some degree (just look at those old schools where they used to force kids to write right-handed: many of those kids stayed with that as they grew up), and full ambidextrity wouldn't even be needed in order to have an athletic effect. It's very interesting in baseball and hockey players, but perhaps even better for football quarterbacks and basketball players: try blocking a shot or a pass from a hand you don't expect! It could be useful in golf as well. Tree in your way? No problem, switch to the other side. If switch-hitting can be learned over time, I think that line of reasoning could come in handy in other sports. Lavery's method isn't necessarily the answer: just pure repetition using your non-dominant hand, arm or foot can add a lot. I'm usually right-handed and right-footed, but during my soccer career, I decided it would help my game to have two good feet, so I spent a lot of time building my left foot up to where it was almost as effective as my right: it certainly proves handy to deke a guy with a foot he isn't expecting. In any case, regardless of if Lavery's method works or doesn't, ambidextrous ability is a great skill to develop.

Samarai said...

Don't knock the ambidextrous revolution until you've tried it.

sager said...

We ain't knockin' anything ... heck, I've played golf with lefty clubs and with righty clubs (not at the same time, though).

Anonymous said...

I have met Michael Lavery and have been training with the Whole Brain Power System for a little over two weeks and I will say that the results are amazing and they come quick. To Mr. Bucholtz, I will say that you are wrong when you say that his method "isn't necessarily the answer." His method works, hands down! I have more balance than I have ever had in my whole life. I can now do one legged squats (pistols) with either leg. I am doing sets of 5 on each leg. That is something that I have never been able to do before. Before last week, I had never even been able to do one with my stronger leg. I work out with a heart rate monitor and I have noticed that my heart rate is about 10-12 bpms slower than two weeks ago while running faster than my normal workout rate. Also I noticed that heart rate goes back to normal much faster when I am done working out than it has ever after a workout. My left bicep has caught up with my right in terms of strength and mass. I have been boxing for about 4 years now and I have never boxed Southpaw. Now I can box Southpaw with complete comfort. I am living proof that ANYONE who trains using Whole Brain Power will see exciting and immediate results. I firmly believe that 50 years from now Michael Lavery will be known as the Father of Modern Neurology, he is really on to something amazing.

sager said...

Hey, thanks for the input. The point was that I felt it was important to make a note about Mr. Lavery, but that I'm a poor courier for the messenger since I don't really know much about exercise science, what have you.