Rutschman’s ta­lent, per­son­al­ity could change team

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ORI­OLES -

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.”

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