In the conversation Brandon Hyde had with Adley Rutschman before Saturday’s game, the Orioles manager didn’t believe his own advice to baseball’s top prospect. He wanted Rutschman to relax. He wanted Rutschman to pretend this was nothing more than a high school game — that is, to ignore the chants and cheers and commotion that would follow him around Oriole Park at Camden Yards all night.
“I understand that that’s not realistic,” Hyde said. “But I just don’t want him to put too much pressure on himself.”
Rutschman had enough pressure on him from external sources. When his name was announced in the starting lineup, the crowd’s yells signaled how the rest of Saturday’s 6-1 loss would unfold. When he took the field for the first time, spinning around to take in his surroundings, the clamor grew again. And his first at-bat reached a fever pitch, with a standing ovation and applause as he headed back to the dugout despite a strikeout.
The fans in Baltimore had been waiting to shower Rutschman with praise ever since he was selected with the first pick of the 2019 draft. Between then and Saturday, expectations have always been high. Yet they reached a crescendo in recent weeks, the pulse of the fan base rising and falling along with Rutschman’s expected arrival — and it’s all so much.
“The expectations on him are, like, crazy,” said Randy Rutschman, Adley’s father. “I see these things, I’m like, uh, he’s just a human. He was playing with Legos five years ago.”
Rutschman doesn’t have a choice but to navigate the pressure. It’s what comes with the territory, becoming the first draft pick in executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ tenure with the Orioles. Like it or not, Rutschman became the face of the franchise that day when his name was called.
Until recently, however, Rutschman had performed in a comparatively lesser spotlight. He spent 2020 at the alternate training site, out of the public eye since the coronavirus pandemic canceled the minor league season. The crowds for his 19 minor league games this season at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A couldn’t compare to this, a half-filled Camden Yards.
“The tough thing about it is, all of the publicity, the expectations that everybody has on him are so high that I don’t know how in the world a person can live up to those things,” said Ad Rutschman, Adley’s grandfather.
In some sports, one player can change the course of a season or the trajectory of a franchise. Rutschman arriving in Baltimore helps — a strong, defensive switch-hitting catcher with offensive upside is a rare find — but there are eight other players in the lineup.
Rutschman already knew that, but for any fans who needed a reminder, the seventh inning provided one. Rutschman hit a ball down the right field line and kept chugging as Rays outfielder Brett Phillips stumbled over himself. Rutschman wound up at third base, his first major league hit a triple.
Yet the next two batters struck out, leaving Rutschman stranded. He can’t do it alone — in the batter’s box or from a wider view, singlehandedly turning around a franchise that has recorded at least 100 losses in each of the past three full seasons.
“That should not be put on him at all,” said first baseman Trey Mancini, the longest-tenured Oriole. “That’s the thing about baseball: It’s a whole collection of individuals banding together, and obviously you want to have elite players like Adley on your team, but it takes a group effort. I don’t think that that should be any sort of narrative or anything added to his time here. I think he’s gonna really help our team out. But I don’t think one person should shift the entire — that shouldn’t be put on him, is basically what I mean.”
What Mancini means makes sense. But amid all the hubbub of Rutschman’s debut, that logical outlook can be lost. Even still, when Rutschman struck out during his first at-bat, the world didn’t end. Nor did a triple in the seventh crown the Orioles as World Series champions.
It’s a process.
“We’re not walking up to him expecting him to go out and hit a grand slam with no one on,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said.
To Randy, his son’s favorite part of the game is the team aspect. He wants to win rather than accumulate stats, although doing both isn’t bad, either. The extra attention on Rutschman could be somewhat uncomfortable, although he’s used to it by now.
Rutschman appreciated the applause. Still, he wouldn’t mind becoming just another Oriole sooner rather than later, without the rowdy cries for a blocked third strike or popup tracked down in foul ground.
“Obviously special that a lot of people were cheering tonight,” Rutschman said, “but I can’t wait to just get to that normal, everyday team aspect.”
When might that occur? Hyde didn’t have a guess. The allure of Rutschman isn’t likely to go away soon — if ever — so Rutschman will become more used to that noise and attention on a larger stage.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to soak in the atmosphere. No matter what Hyde might’ve said pregame, there was no pretending this was just any other baseball game.
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this report.
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