GLASGOW — A phenomenon. An albatross. An anomaly. A pitcher who can pitch with both hands is a rarity, to say the least.
Merrik Coulter, a sophomore on the Barren County baseball team, is a switch pitcher. He throws right-handed when playing in the field, but he can toss with either hand when on the mound.
Coulter hasn't pitched from both sides in a varsity game yet this season. Most of his playing time at the varsity level has come at third base. But Coulter has pitched from both sides at the junior varsity level including last month against Glasgow when he pitched one inning as a righty then pitched the next as a southpaw.
Coulter said he's naturally left-handed, and that lack of equipment and the common assumption that most people are righties is what conditioned him to throw with his other hand as a youngster.
"They don't really make many gloves for kids left-handed, so I just started throwing right-handed, and then got back into my natural side in the third grade," he said. "I've been working on it ever since."
His youth coaches were pessimistic of Coulter's ability to pitch left-handed since he had started throwing as a righty. He said he only threw with both arms in one game by the end of the eighth grade.
But things changed last year for Coulter.
Barren County pitching coach Steve Patton gave him the option of pitching with both arms in the fall, and Coulter has taken advantage of the opportunity.
For Coulter, it was one of the few times a coach exuded confidence in his ability to throw with either arm.
"I guess [Patton] saw the good side of it, and he gave me a chance, and I've been working on it ever since," Coulter said. "I've gotten a lot better since last year."
Better and still hard to believe.
"It's just funny to look around the ballpark and see people's reactions," Barren County coach JR Estes said of when Coulter switch-pitches.
He sees Coulter's pitching role increasing at the varsity level as he moves into his upperclass seasons and continues to harness his unique ability.
"To be able to have that capability — that's a weapon in your arsenal. It's pretty phenomenal," Estes said. "The potential for him to help his team win is very, very high."
Coulter's specialty could also save arms late in games.
For example, Estes said, Coulter could switch and throw left-handed against a tough left-handed hitter during a key, late inning at-bat. Conventionally, a coach would likely pull his starter and bring a lefty in to pitch in such a scenario.
When Coulter was a freshman, Estes said he'd heard that he could pitch with both hands. His mother, Sonja, sent Estes videos of Coulter pitching on a mound at home.
"I thought 'OK, well maybe this could happen,'" Estes said of his reaction after watching the videos.
As rules go, a switch-pitcher must declare before a hitter enters the box which arm he will throw with, and they can't change arms during the at-bat.
Coulter has a six-finger glove for pitching that can be switched to either hand depending on which arm he's using for throwing.
A pitcher throwing with either hand is rarer than a triple play, a player hitting for the cycle or a perfect game. In 2015, Pat Venditte became the first pitcher in more than a decade to switch-pitch during a Major League Baseball game.
Switch-pitching is so rare that even legends and tales about its occurrence can be exaggerated.
For example, there's the local legend that one of the Doyle twins pitched with both arms for Caverna High School in the early 1970s, an era that saw the Colonels win the state title in 1972 under coach Coy Meadows. Coulter even referenced the tale when asked if he knew of any other pitchers who threw with both arms.
But actually, the tale isn't exactly true. Meadows said this week that Doyle threw right-handed when playing in the field, but tossed as a lefty when on the mound.
Coulter joined a travel team out of Lexington recently, and said the coach was skeptical he could pitch with both arms until he did so during a tryout.
Even Coulter's mother learned the hard way about her son's ambidextrous ways.
Sonja, a former high school softball player, was playing a game of catch in the yard with Merrik when her glove popped after receiving one of his throws.
"I threw my glove down because he just killed my hand and I looked and said 'are you throwing left-handed?'" she said. "He'd been throwing left-handed the whole time."
Though some may have doubted his ability, Coulter never gave up on his desire to pitch with both hands. Sonja said he's been a gym rat via home workouts in their basement. He also spends quite a bit of time working on his technique and form, trying to match everything about his motion and setup with either arm.
He practices his pitching motion with a towel as his baseball, throwing facing a mirror so he can emulate his motions with both arms.
"I throw a little harder right-handed, and a little more accurate, but left-handed feels so much better, and my mechanics are better," he said. "It's just going to take time to get everything built together."