Rutschman’s talent, personality could change team
to him because you can see that he’s very, very confident,” said Paul Mainieri, who managed Rutschman on the United States Collegiate National Team last summer.
“He balances it with great humility and team-oriented attitudes. He’s the total package. I’ve been coaching for a lot of years — 37 to be exact. He’s as special a person and a talent as I’ve come across in my lifetime.”
It’s a mindset Rutschman didn’t adopt overnight; much like his on-field talents — from his sweet swing to his superlative catching skills — it was a long time coming.
However, one of Rutschman’s talents came sooner than the others, and everyone has a story about when they knew just how good he might be.
Jon Strohmaier, his coach at Sherwood High, kept hearing about Rutschman when was 8 or 9 years old playing Little League. When Strohmaier went to see him, he watched Rutschman single and steal three bases in a four-pitch span.
Nathan Hickok, who played at nearby George Fox University, where Rutschman’s father, Randy, coaches catchers, said the Orioles’ top pick had a better swing as a 10-year-old when hitting in the cages after practice than many of the college players.
Taylor recalled a doubleheader during Rutschman’s junior summer when he hit for the cycle left-handed, then missed it by a double right-handed.
“One of the most impressive, athletic things I’ve ever seen,” Taylor said.
Rutschman was a standout football player at that time too, but it was around then that he started to break out on the field. But he didn’t carry it in competition the way he does now.
“I don’t think he was very comfortable being the stud … even though he was definitely that,” Hickok said. “He was a very reserved kid and worked incredibly hard in practice, but (he) was more of a leader by example and not really a vocal leader or anything beyond that.”
Randy Rutschman saw that aspect of his son develop during his last year of high school. Adley had already committed to Oregon State, and was on his way to being named Oregon’s Gatorade Player of the Year when he split his pursuits between trying to make himself the best he can be and actively doing that for everyone around him.
“The realization hit him, and he started feeding off that,” Randy said. “He started realizing, ‘I can be an impact (player). I can be a force out here for good.’
“That just kind of grew, the idea that I think he just started seeing more and more things positive happen as a result of what he was doing. Once he realized that was such a primary goal, I think he got way more involved in building (up) the people around him. He realized, ‘If I build the people around me, we can win more. This is good.’ ”
That growth hit overdrive at Oregon State. His first year there, Adley played regularly behind the plate but hit .234 without much pop on a College World Series team. He knew it wasn’t good enough, so he used his summer in the Cape Cod League to revamp his swing, making himself a hitter with an easier load who was on time more often down the road. That made for a frustrating few months.
But the resulting player — the one who batted .408 with a 1.133 OPS and nine home runs as a sophomore, with a record-setting 17 hits in the College World Series as Oregon State won a national championship and he was named Most Outstanding Player — did more than just dominate. He was a driving force on a talented team, and he made everyone better.
“He loves when other people do well, and he hates losing — in anything,” Oregon State coach Pat Bailey said.
The rest of the college baseball elite saw that firsthand. Rutschman missed the collegiate national team’s first five-game series last summer because of the College World Series, but he joined the team for its second series against Japan.
He was getting the buzz his fellow sophomores on the team wanted — consideration for the first overall pick this summer — and had been the star of the sport’s grandest competition just days earlier. And nobody begrudged him any of it.
“He was a pinch hitter [the first game] just to kind of get his feet wet,” Mainieri said. “The next night, he caught and hit a big double and we won 1-0 in a thrilling game where we scored in the ninth against Japan.
“He caught the last strike of a 1-0 game in front of a packed house in Durham, N.C. He gave the big fist pump and hugged the pitcher as if he’d been with our team for a year. It’s amazing how quickly he just adapted to the new team and how much respect he garnered from everybody.
“It was kind of an awkward thing for most people to join a team already in the midst of a tour, but it was amazing to me just how seamlessly he moved in, and not only was accepted and became a part of the squad but how he literally became the best player on the team right out of the gate. You would never know it because Adley is so humble and so team-oriented that it was really easy for everybody to accept him.”
They quickly saw Rutschman’s talent wasn’t unearned. They saw he wanted it badly, and he wanted it just as badly for them as well.
“I don’t think (people) understand how good he is behind the plate: dealing with pitchers, blocking balls and throwing guys out,” said Cadyn Grenier, who the Orioles drafted out of Oregon State last summer. “Just about everything you could want from a catcher, he does it phenomenally.
“He’s an amazing teammate. He’s a really hard worker, he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s really easy to like.”
That extended right up until his last official act as an Oregon State baseball player, when he had not only his family but his teammates in the players’ lounge with him when he was selected first overall by the Orioles.
“Adley’s a breath of fresh air,” Bailey said. “From parents to everybody, it’s just crazy how many people are self-centered. All they care about is themselves.
“I’m just telling you, to be truly happy in life, you’ve got to make other people more important than yourself. That’s why Adley is who he is.
“He’s just a great guy, and he’s a really happy person because of it.”