With a crowd that had been waiting for this day for almost three years on its feet, Adley Rutschman shook hands with home plate umpire Andy Fletcher, smiling and sharing pleasantries, then stood behind home plate at Camden Yards on the dirt he will patrol for the Orioles for years to come.
Before he squatted there as a major leaguer for the first time, Rutschman took a visual lap of this 30-year-old venue. He turned around and gave a slight nod. Then, as he has since adopting catching as a child, donned his mask, bent his knees and opened his mitt.
“It was just kind of something that a couple guys told me, when they made their debut, when they caught, they just said to make sure to appreciate every moment,” Rutschman said later. “And if you can, make sure to take a second and soak it all in ’cause that’s something you’re gonna remember forever.
“I took that to heart.”
A major league debut requires a difficult balance. Players are told to treat it like any other game, the one they’ve played since boyhood, and to savor it, which Rutschman’s look around the ballpark served as an attempt to do. His actions from there – squatting, catching, swinging, taking pitches – were in and of themselves no different than usual. But little else in Baltimore’s 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in their top prospect’s first major league game was normal.
An announced crowd of 17,573, one that routinely sounded much larger than its mediocre tally, stood and applauded at every opportunity to honor Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
When he first took 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 took that glance around the ballpark.
When he came up for his first at-bat, with phones held aloft for every pitch, including strike three.
When he walked in his second plate appearance, with the palpable hype around him almost suggesting he could do so on water.
When he showed he can run, too, following alternating chants of “Ad-ley! Ad-ley! ” and “Ad-ley Rutsch-man!” By smacking a ball into the right field corner to triple for his first hit, matching former top prospects Matt Wieters and Manny Machado’s opening knocks.
When he prompted more chants by, of all acts, catching a routine popup before hitting one himself in his final at-bat.
“Everything was kind of unexpected,” Rutschman said. “You can’t really think about what’s gonna happen when you’re out there, and I didn’t really know what to expect besides just to soak everything in, like I was talking about with those little things between innings. Trying to make sure I remember those moments. “
As manager Brandon Hyde said before the game, Saturday’s at-bats were only a handful to start a career that will hopefully feature thousands. That they came in a loss will also not be unique. Rutschman said he was “extremely blessed” to receive the support he did Saturday, but he also looks forward to when the focus at Oriole Park shifts to the home team’s results rather than his presence.
“It was a great debut,” Hyde said, “and now he can hopefully exhale a little bit and just start playing the game.”
A pair of Randy Arozarena home runs off Bradish and another from Kevin Kiermaier off Mike Baumann spoiled a night in which Rutschman not only debuted but also caught two of Baltimore’s top four pitching prospects. The solo shot was the only run Baumann allowed in finishing the game after replacing Bradish in the sixth.
Rutschman said it was “special” to work with Bradish, who he began last season with at Double-A Bowie and ended it with at Triple-A Norfolk, in his debut. Bradish, making his fifth major league start, said after the first that he tried to view it as any other game, and he said Saturday he felt Rutschman did the same.
“It was definitely a joy to share that moment with him,” Bradish said. “I know it’s a big deal for him and this city of Baltimore. It’s been waiting for a while, so it was awesome to be able to be out there and share that with him. “
Still, Rutschman acknowledged he was “still running on nerves” about 15 minutes after the last out.
“From the second I walked out on the field to warm up the pitcher till the time I walked in the tunnel, just an emotional overload,” he said. “I can’t really explain the feeling because it was just unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. And just blessed to be a part of this team and this moment. ”
Before Rutschman’s triple, the Orioles had one hit. They finished with six as Trey Mancini recorded two, including a run-scoring single in the eighth.
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Rutschman alone won’t turn the Orioles’ tide, Saturday showed, but his presence brought a new energy to Camden Yards, an venue that during the course of Baltimore’s rebuild has featured many droll nights.
Saturday was different. A 360-degree turn from Adley Rutschman said as much.
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