Toward the end of Adley Rutschman’s high school football career, Ad Rutschman knew his wife of 60-plus years couldn’t make her way into the lower bowl at Sherwood High School in Sherwood, Oregon, to see their grandson play. But from the parking lot, situated on a hill overlooking the stadium, the two could sit in their car and catch most of the action.
Ad and Joan Rutschman never missed a game of Adley’s if they could help it — from T-ball throughout his time at Oregon State. They were that way for all 14 of their grandchildren before Joan’s death in 2016, an ever-present support system, even if they had to sit in the car.
The view was almost unobstructed, if not for a low-hanging branch on a 12-foot tree.
“I went by there one time and I noticed a branch was gone on this tree,” said Randy Rutschman, Ad’s son and Adley’s father. “It looked absolutely odd.”
It was more of a joke at first when Randy called his father to ask whether he had hacked down that ill-placed branch. But the answer at the other end of the line was matter-of-fact.
“The thing was in my way,” replied Ad, who had used a pair of pruners to clear the view for him and his wife.
When Ad Rutschman arrives at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Monday, he won’t need pruners to watch his grandson play with the Orioles for the first time. He’ll have a better view from inside the ballpark for all three games, taking in Adley’s return to the Pacific Northwest with as many as 1,000 other Rutschman supporters heading to Seattle.
The connections to Adley aren’t always linear. Ad has heard from former players from his coaching days at Linfield University who are traveling to the game. The 91-year-old wife of one of his former teammates at the McMinnville, Oregon, institution is attending with her son. Coaches from Sherwood High School, high school classmates of Randy’s and neighbors of the families — T-Mobile Park will be as much a family reunion as a baseball game.
“It’s kind of like a homecoming a little bit,” Randy said.
“Some of them have never, ever met Adley,” Ad said. “But all of a sudden, he’s a real part of their life.”
For all the onlookers there to see Adley, however, one will stick out from the crowd — just as he has since Adley’s T-ball days.
“He’s one of the most inspirational people in my life,” Adley said of his grandfather. “He’s getting older every year, and it’s always been a dream of mine to have him see me play. He’s just so invested in my career and how I’m doing.”
Ad had wanted to get to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for Rutschman’s debut, but at 90 years old, cross-country travel isn’t as feasible. There’s a similar holdup for Carol Rutschman’s mother, who is 85.
That made Seattle the perfect opportunity. Randy, Carol and the two grandparents will drive north from Oregon on Monday morning, then settle in for a series that might mean more to Adley than hitting another double or catching another win.
When he was an 8-year-old, his mother, Carol, signed Adley up for a Pitch, Hit and Run program, and the regional competition was held at what was then known as Safeco Field. Naturally, Adley won.
“That was his first time in a major league baseball park,” Randy said.
Sixteen years later, he’ll return — looking to repeat his earlier success against the franchise that drafted him in the 40th round out of high school.
For much of Adley’s childhood, Ad left the individual coaching to Randy. He didn’t want to step on his son’s toes or micromanage Adley’s development, but there were a few opportunities for the pair to work together. With Randy throwing batting practice, Ad taught his grandson a hitting drill while in late middle school, swinging one-handed while choked up on the bat to improve his arm strength and bat control.
But Ad was more of a supporter than coach. He watched as his grandson kicked a state-record 63-yard field goal in high school. He cheered as Adley set a single-season Oregon State record with 102 hits, and a College World Series record with 17.
“That may never be broken,” Ad said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘How does this happen to one person?’ And he is just a hard worker, but to me the very best thing is he’s a better person than he is a ballplayer.”
After each game in high school, Ad would either talk to Adley in person or over the phone to discuss the performance — but more so to let his grandson know how proud he is of him. Even with Adley in the majors, Ad does much the same, but he’s graduated to sending text messages now in addition to the calls.
“I’m still not worth beans on the cellphone,” Ad laughed. “I’ve gotta have help from the grandkids all the time.”
The message still gets through, and it’s never changed.
When Ad watches Adley, even on television, he hurts anytime his grandson strikes out. When in-person at T-Mobile Park, he expects people to observe how he watches Adley, especially when a ball off his bat finds a gap.
“They expect you to jump in the air and shout and everything else,” said Ad, who doesn’t jump in the air much anymore, let alone shout. “I don’t want them looking at me. I want them focused on him.”
Because that’s where Ad’s focus will be, just as it has been since he used shears to improve the view for him and wife to watch Sherwood football games. No matter the level, no matter the sport, Ad has watched his grandson closely.
And now he’ll do so at the highest level.
“My gut feeling is my pride level is going to jump,” Ad said. “I’m real proud of him now. But to me, to see it, I’ve got to think it’s going to be a different feeling.”
What’s to come?
Beyond Adley Rutschman’s return to the Pacific Northwest, the Orioles will travel to face the Minnesota Twins to conclude a 10-game road trip. There will be questions around the starting rotation as the week progresses, with the latest alteration right-hander Kyle Bradish going on the 15-day injured list with shoulder inflammation.
Even with movement in the rotation, the offensive improvement and continued success of the bullpen have allowed Baltimore to win seven of its past 10 games while winning or tying the past six series. The success has coincided with Rutschman’s call-up, as the Orioles are 20-16 since May 21.
What was good?
Austin Hays has built a strong enough resume for an All-Star nomination, but the past week included a highlight moment to propel the Orioles outfielder into the national spotlight. He hit for the cycle Wednesday in a rain-shortened six-inning game against the Washington Nationals.
Before his 0-for-4 performance Sunday against the Chicago White Sox, Hays had a 1.191 OPS in his previous five games with seven RBIs. For the season, Hays is batting .284 with 10 home runs.
Rylan Bannon grew up in Joliet, Illinois, a town about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. So when the infielder received a promotion to the Orioles ahead of the trip to face the White Sox, family members bought tickets for a chance to see the rookie play.
Instead, Bannon was placed on to the taxi squad Saturday before he could appear in his second major league stint. For Triple-A Norfolk this season, Bannon is hitting .232 but hit three homers in a one-week stretch before his short-lived promotion.
On the farm
The next highly ranked Orioles prospect expected to make his major league debut has struggled with his command the past two times out for Norfolk. Left-hander DL Hall’s whiff rate is high, but he’s struggled to keep his pitch count low as walks pile up.
Across his past two outings, Hall has walked 10 batters, and he gave up a season-high seven runs Sunday on just six hits.
Monday, 10:10 p.m.
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Tuesday, 10:10 p.m.
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Wednesday, 4:10 p.m.
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