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Talented teen bats, pitches from left and right

Predicting the future of a 13-year-oldis a gamble. Still, to say that Kristofer Armstrong could succeed at a high level in baseball qualifies as an understatement.

Take the bloodlines of the Jupiter resident, a seventh-grader at Independence Middle School. His 48-old father and coach, Jack Armstrong, was a 6-foot-5, 220-pound Major League Baseball pitcher for seven seasons.

He started the All-Star Game in 1990; won a World Series with the Cincinnati Reds that year, and was a member of the inaugural Florida Marlins team in 1993.

Then there are his teenage son’s specialties. Unlike his right-handed father, Kris is a rare switch-hitter who bats both right- and left-handed.

During a recent workout, he hit balls over, and off of, a 300-foot fence from both sides of the plate.

Already 6 feet tall and 170 pounds at 13, Kris is also something much more rare — a switch-pitcher who uses a modified glove, with two thumb holes, to throw with either hand. At the same practice, fastballs from both sides audibly smacked into the glove of Aaron Steinhart, the fearless 13-year-old catcher for his Palm Beach Rebels travel team.

“I’m more naturally right-handed in baseball,” said Kris, “but I eat and write lefty. So after I’d started hitting off a tee lefty to switch-hit, I decided to also try pitching lefty when I was about 10.”

Switch-pitching occurred sparingly in the 19th century, but it’s been rarer since. Greg Harris did it for the Montreal Expos in the 1990s, and the only switch-pitcher currently approaching the Major Leagues is Pat Venditte, who’s a member of the New York Yankees’ AAA minor league team.

More evidence toward the ambidextrous player’s future lies in the Armstrong stable. Kris was preceded by a 23-year-old brother, Jack Jr., who’s pitching professionally in the Houston Astros organization. A hard-throwing right-hander, the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder is currently in an extended spring training rehabilitation stint after elbow surgery.

“Size-wise, Kris is right where Jack Jr. was at 13,” said Jack Sr.

“But Kris has been clocked at 86 miles per hour right-handed and 78 left-handed. Those numbers are unheard of at his age.”

Another brother, 21-year-old Erik, is a right-handed junior infielder, outfielder and catcher at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Like Jack Jr., the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder previously starred for Jupiter High School.

Jack Sr. and Kristine Armstrong also have a 17-year-old daughter, 6-foot-3 Jessica Armstrong, who’s set to attend Stetson University on a full scholarship to play volleyball and study theater and voice.

The Armstrongs’ youngest is not only a multi-faceted star for the Rebels, but for Independence Middle as well. The school captured the county championship last season with Kris driving in the winning run and closing the game as a relief pitcher.

“I play catcher, shortstop and center field, too,” Kris said. “And my batting average is right around .500.”

“And I only remember him allowing one earned run as a pitcher,” said Jack Sr.

Cue central casting for Robert Redford’s successor if there’s ever a sequel to the 1984 baseball film The Natural.

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