With a crowd that had been waiting for the day for nearly three years on its feet, Adley Rutschman shook hands with home plate umpire Andy Fletcher, smiling and sharing jokes, then stood behind home plate at Camden Yards on the dirt qu he will be patrolling for the Orioles for years to come.
Before crouching there as a major leaguer for the first time, Rutschman gave a visual tour of the 30-year-old venue. He turned around and nodded slightly. Then, as he has since embraced catching as a child, put on his mask, bent his knees and opened his mitt.
“It was just kind of something a few guys said to me, when they debuted, when they caught, they just said to make sure you enjoy every moment of it,” Rutschman later said. . “And if you can, be sure to take a second and soak it all in because it’s something you’ll remember forever.
“I took that to heart.”
A debut in the major league requires a difficult balance. Players are told to treat it like any other game, one they’ve played since childhood, and savor it, which Rutschman’s gaze around the stadium served as an attempt. His actions from there – crouching, catching, swinging, taking throws – were in themselves no different from usual. But nothing else about Baltimore’s 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in their top prospect’s major league opener was normal.
A reported crowd of 17,573, which regularly sounded much larger than its lackluster tally, stood and cheered at every opportunity to honor Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
When he first stepped onto the field to warm up starting pitcher Kyle Bradish, another product of this organization’s rebuild and one of its top 10 prospects.
When he trotted onto the field and looked around the ballpark.
When he came on for his first at bat, with phones in the air for every pitch, including the third strike.
When he made his second set appearance, the palpable hype around him almost suggested he could do it on the water.
When he showed he could run too, following alternating chants of “Ad-ley!” Ad-ley! and “Ad-ley Rutsch-man!” hitting a ball to the right corner of the field to triple for his first hit, matching the opening hits of former top prospects Matt Wieters and Manny Machado.
When he prompted more chants by, of all acts, catching a routine popup before hitting one himself during his last at bat.
“It was all a bit unexpected,” Rutschman said. “You can’t really think about what’s going to happen when you’re out there, and I didn’t really know what to expect other than just absorbing it all, as I was talking about these little things between innings. I try to make sure I remember those times.
As manager Brandon Hyde said before the game, Saturday’s at-bats were just a handful to start a career that will hopefully number in the thousands. That they fell in defeat will not be unique either. Rutschman said he was “tremendously blessed” to receive the support he received on Saturday, but he also looks forward to when the focus at Oriole Park shifts to the home team’s results rather than the Her presence.
“It was a great start,” Hyde said, “and now he can hopefully breathe out a bit and start playing.”
A pair of home runs from Randy Arozarena against Bradish and another from Kevin Kiermaier against Mike Baumann ruined a night in which Rutschman not only made his debut, but also caught two of Baltimore’s top four pitching prospects. The solo shot was the only run Baumann allowed to finish the game after replacing Bradish in sixth.
Rutschman said it was “special” to work with Bradish, with whom he started last season at Double-A Bowie and finished it at Triple-A Norfolk, on his debut. Bradish, who is in his fifth major league start, said after the first he tried to treat it like any other game, and he said on Saturday he thinks Rutschman did the same. .
“It was definitely a joy to share this moment with him,” Bradish said. “I know this is a big deal for him and this town of Baltimore. It’s been a while, so it was great to be able to be out there and share this with him.
Still, Rutschman admitted he was “still nervous” about 15 minutes after the final out.
“From the second I stepped out onto the field to warm up the pitcher to the moment I entered the tunnel, just an emotional overload,” he said. “I can’t really explain the feeling because it was just unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And just blessed to be part of this team and this moment.
Prior to Rutschman’s hat-trick, the Orioles had one hit. They finished with six as Trey Mancini recorded two, including a single that scored in the eighth.
Rutschman alone won’t turn the tide for the Orioles, the Orioles showed on Saturday, but his presence has brought new energy to Camden Yards, a venue that during Baltimore’s rebuilding has featured many fun nights.
Saturday was different. A 360 degree turn from Adley Rutschman says as much.
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9FM, 101.5FM, 1090AM