Adley Rutschman talks about the day like it is ancient history, even though many people listening probably have shirts that are older.
“I remember seeing this field for the first time,” the Oregon native says, as he prepared for his first All Star Game, located close to his home, at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.
Rutschman turns and points up. “We were sitting in the upper deck there in right field. I saw Adrian Beltre hit an opposite field home run that day. I was eight years old. … I remember it so vividly, because it’s one of those core memories.”
It took place a mere 17 years ago, but while that time span is a drop in the bucket for many of the baseball writers listening, it was enough time for the eight-year-old Rutschman to develop into one of baseball’s biggest up and coming stars, on one of the year’s most exciting teams.
Rutschman made his MLB debut last year, on May 21. At the time he was called up, the Baltimore Orioles were in last place in the American League East after a long period of tanking to save money and develop young players. They had the third worst record in the American League and had given up 37 more runs than they scored.
In the 14 months since, Baltimore has gone 128-92 for a .582 winning percentage, the fourth best mark in all of baseball. They’ve scored 71 more runs than their opponents, and they’ve called up some of the top minor league prospects in the sport as the young Orioles make an improbable run toward the postseason, rekindling a baseball interest in the Inner Harbor that had been beaten into submission by years of losing.
Shortstop Gunnar Henderson joined Rutschman on the big club in late August of last year. Promising pitcher Grayson Rodriguez in early April. Since then, the O’s have called up their top infield prospect in Jordan Westburg, their top outfielder in Colton Cowser, and they’re showing signs that they may call up current top prospect Jackson Holliday by the end of the season.
It’s an exciting time in Baltimore.
“There’s lots of talent coming up,” Rutschman said. “Every day, it feels like someone new is coming up.”
Of course, it all started with Rutschman, already one of the top catchers in MLB. He was described as “Captain America” by his fellow participants in this year’s All Star Home Run Derby and lived up to the hype, blasting homers from both sides of the plate in an impressive performance, with his dad throwing him pitches.
While the Orioles’ turnaround can be traced to Rutschman’s arrival, it’s clearly not a one-man show in Baltimore, and a big reason for that is the fact that the second-year backstop is a team guy through and through, careful not to accept any praise without deflecting it to the guys around him.
“He’s a guy that hits for power, gets on base,” said fellow Orioles All-Star Austin Hays. “He’ll also pass the bat to the next guy in the lineup. He’s not trying to do it all himself. He’s a great team guy. You see it with the pitchers. They always have a smile on their face every time he’s coming off the mound. After innings, he always greets them on the line, even if he’s leading off the inning. He has to have that moment with his pitcher before he gets ready to hit. The way he handles himself inside the clubhouse makes him special.”
It seems to be an attitude that’s contagious and has spread across the Orioles’ locker room.
“I think it’s just one of those tings that has been slowly building for us as a team,” he said of the Orioles’ success this season. “We’re fortunate enough to have a great clubhouse with great guys who are excited to play every day. … It’s so not individualized. It’s a true team atmosphere. If someone has a bad day, another guy picks him up. It never feels like you’re on your own.”
Rutschman wasn’t on his own in Seattle, as the Orioles sent a total of four players to the All-Star Game, matching the team’s total number of All-Stars since 2018. It’s the first time Baltimore has had multiple players selected since 2016, which, as Rutschman will tell you, was a long, long time ago.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The team meeting we had where everyone got announced. It was electric. Everyone was fired up. It means so much to have that many guys going this year. We’re all so close. It’s just a cool experience we can share together—getting on the jet together, sitting there just smiling at each other like, ‘Are we really doing this?’”
Two weeks after the All-Star appearance, the Orioles took three of four from the Rays to move into first place in the American League East, with the best record in the American League. Even though the jet has arrived back from Seattle, Rutschman and his teammates are still smiling and asking the same question.
“Are we really doing this?”