ABERDEEN-About 40 years ago, Randy Rutschman was in Maryland working for a private airline company. He coached his boss’s son’s baseball team, finding time to catch a game at Memorial Stadium and take the team to Washington D.C. for a day.
That was the last time he was in the Baltimore area before his son, Adley, was drafted No. 1 overall by the Orioles, becoming the face of the team’s rebuild. Randy Rutschman is a longtime baseball coach and is currently the catching coach at George Fox University in Oregon. He’s had players drafted before, but watching his son go through the process this year was unique.
“Totally different experience when it’s your own kid,” Rutschman said. “Completely different experience, you’re learning as you go.”
The same can be said for Adley. There were times Saturday night when he looked like just another Aberdeen IronBird. He still took batting practice before the game, and when the team lined up pregame on the first base line for the national anthem, he was looking around for a spot. Even the IronBirds’ orange uniform was similar to the one he wore for three years at Oregon State, down to his familiar No. 35.
“Baseball’s baseball,” Rutschman said. “But it’s been a little different atmosphere.”
For the rest of the night, he was the center of attention. In the concourse, Rutschman’s No. 35 was already littered throughout the crowd. By the third inning, only two of the 75 Rutschman shirts ordered for the game remained in the team store.
When the starting lineups were announced, Rutschman’s name clearly drew the biggest cheer. Then when he came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, fans around the stadium rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation, with several taking out their phones to document the moment.
“It was exhilarating,” Rutschman said of his first at-bat. “I was just enjoying it, looking down at the ground for a second, just maybe step out of the box and soak in every second of it.”
On the field, he wasn’t treated any differently. For the Hudson Valley Renegades, he was still just one of 27 outs they hoped to get. In his first at-bat, Renegades pitcher Daiveyon Whittle threw a pitch that jammed Rutschman, and he popped up to shallow left field.
He came up again with runners on first and third with one out in the bottom of the third inning, which became second and third when Shane Fontana stole second. Rutschman took a big cut and missed on an 0-1 breaking ball, then missed on another to strike out.
He made contact on his last three bats, but the ball never left the infield. The IronBirds were leading 5-2 when Rutschman came to bat for the final time in the bottom of the eighth inning, and fans headed for the exits after he grounded out to second. Once Aberdeen closed out a 5-2 win, the fans who stayed lined the dugout, hoping for an autograph from the man of the hour, despite his 0-for-5 performance.
Once the game ended, he seemed relieved to talk about baseball and try to get used to the life of a professional.
“I feel like when you’re playing every day, the games kind of mesh together,” Rustschman said. “And it’s baseball, baseball, baseball, which is the way it should be.”
Just playing will be the way Rutschman wants it, but if Saturday was any indication, every stop on the road to Camden Yards could bring a similar experience. Everything he does attracts attention. When he was in Baltimore earlier this year, Rutschman’s dad said he posted a picture of himself in the Inner Harbor on his Snapchat story. Minutes later, someone came up to him asking for his autograph.
He’s handled the attention at every stop on his rise to becoming the face of a franchise. But this all he’s wanted to do since he was 8 years old, and he enjoys the day-to-day grind of catching and trying to make the team better.
“All you want to see as a parent is that your child is happy,” his mother, Carol, said. “And my child is very happy.”