If you’ve caught a Whiskey Jacks game at Kraft Field this summer, you may have been lucky enough to see Gene Aberouette break out a neat trick on the mound.
As an ambidextrous starting pitcher for the Jacks, Aberouette can throw with both arms and has done so from an early age.
He was born a natural lefty. However, in a large baseball-loving family he was the only lefty out of the bunch.
“There are eight kids in my family and everyone else is right-handed. So, I was kind of forced into trying it on the side. My parents say I didn’t want to be a lefty so they had me throw both ways,” Aberouette said before Friday night’s game against the Pierre Trappers.
Aberouette’s brothers Randy, Felix, Jean-Paul and David have all played baseball at high levels ranging from high school to the Division I college level. Growing up in the San Francisco area, Gene has been playing his entire life.
“There was a lot of competition. A crazy amount of competition, actually. So there was a lot of smack talk, but it kind of pushed us to get better and more from each other,” he said.
This summer also marks the first time Aberouette has played competitive baseball anywhere besides California. He admits it is “different” going from a big city to a small town, but it is unique–much like his pitching style.
If it wasn’t uncommon enough already to be ambidextrous on the hill, most are natural righties and can throw from the left side for matchup purposes. Aberouette is the opposite.
“He’s primarily a left-handed pitcher,” Whiskey Jacks coach Robbie Laughlin said. “He doesn’t get the same stuff on breaking balls with his right hand. But when he has gone deep into games and starts to get tired with his left arm he’s been able to switch to his right and give us one more inning.”
There is room to improve with his right-handed tosses, but Aberouette has gotten praise from his teammates at all levels.
“They’re always hyping me up, wanting me to break it out,” he said. “A lot of people chase my changeup on my left side even though you want to go left-on-left or right-on-right, but it’s been working both ways. For (the Expedition League) I’ll go with my left as much as I can but if the situation calls for it I’ll go with the right.
Before COVID had hit, Aberouette at his JUCO program Skyline College was set to make his “debut” as an ambidextrous hurler. In California rules for ambidextrous pitchers are a little different to those of the MLB and Expedition League.
Instead of designating before each at-bat which side one would throw from, pitchers have the ability to switch hands mid-count. That luxury hasn’t been available this summer which has resulted in fewer opportunities for Aberouette to throw from the right side.
“The lefty-lefty matchup is something you see a lot more in professional baseball, where there are left-handed specialists. We’ve definitely thought about doing it a couple of times this summer, but honestly, he’s just been so good left-handed. We almost don’t want to mess anything up,” Laughlin said.
Laughlin isn’t lying about the ‘lefty’s’ track record this summer. He has a 4-1 record with a 2.32 ERA and is averaging around five strikeouts in his last six starts.
As a result of both his natural abilities and his statistics, he’s been able to stick out. Aberouette was named to the Lewis Division squad for the Expedition League All-Star game on Tuesday, July 20.
“His stats speak for themselves but I would say him being named to the All-Star game definitely had a little bit to do with him being ambidextrous,” said Laughlin. “He and I have kind of talked about it. He’ll probably throw one inning and he’ll probably go left-right-left-right.”
On top of that, he’s hoping to move up from JUCO and into a four-year program.
“Hopefully this (league) can get me somewhere,” said Aberouette.
He has the stats this summer to back him up and he has an abundance of confidence going into each game.
“What makes me comfortable pitching is the atmosphere on this team. It’s so fun,” he said. “I don’t really get mad because we’re all just messing around. Win or lose, everybody is smiling. It keeps me relaxed.”
As a coach, Laughlin sees the true value Aberouette could bring to any collegiate program. Finding a strong left-handed arm is always a must for a competitive rotation or bullpen, but to have the best of both worlds is what Aberouette could be offering.
“If I was a four-year coach right now and looking for an arm, Gene would definitely interest me,” Laughlin said. “Not just because he’s left-handed and throwing well but because he hasn’t by any means hit the ceiling with his right hand. Once he learns to throw breaking balls with command with his right arm he’s going to be really, really good.”