Orioles savor first All-Star Game experience: ‘Everything I ever imagined’

12 July 2023

Adley Rutschman lowered himself into a squat, just as he was bound to do within a handful of hours to catch his Baltimore teammates. But he wore no catcher’s gear. In his left hand, he did not don a mitt but instead held a pen.

Before taking batting practice ahead of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, a game the American League lost to the National League, 3-2, the Orioles’ catcher took a moment to speak with a pair of young fans, dropping down as he would in a game to meet them at eye level before signing autographs. In the nearest major league city to his hometown of Sherwood, Oregon, Rutschman was a popular figure throughout two days of events in which he and three teammates, outfielder Austin Hays and relievers Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano, savored their first All-Star experience.

Typically Baltimore’s left fielder, Hays drew the start in center field for the American League, placed between the Texas Rangers’ Adolis García in right and Tampa Bay Rays’ Randy Arozarena in left. When that pair opened the game with leaping catches at the outfield wall, Hays was the first to greet each. He ran toward García to give him a high-five, and after Arozarena’s play, Hays did Arozarena’s signature arms-crossed stance in his direction.

“I was [thinking] for sure the third one was going to have to come to me,” Hays said. “I was just standing there, I’m like, ‘All right, you got to do it right here. There’s going to be a play.’ I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything like that to open up a game.”

He grounded out to second base in his first at-bat, then singled to center off Chicago Cubs left-hander Justin Steele in his second chance, which he noted likely wouldn’t have come had he not started the game. As Bautista walked alongside Boston Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen from the first base dugout to the bullpens in left before the top of the fourth, Hays patted him on the back while jogging toward center. In the middle of the inning, Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. was shown on the scoreboard and received a large ovation; when Seattle last hosted the game in 1991, Ripken homered, starting the game at shortstop instead of third base as planned after Alex Rodriguez asked the Iron Man to swap positions.

Hays exited the game for the sixth, just as his teammates made their first All-Star appearances. With Rutschman coming in to catch, Cano took the mound, the earliest he has entered a game this season. He struck out the Atlanta Braves’ Matt Olson and Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos and did his signature staredown and straddle after both, elongating it at the suggestion of some of his fellow Cuban All-Stars. Miami’s Jorge Soler reached on an error on a soft ground ball, extending the inning, and another grounder went into right field for a single before one more finally ended a scoreless frame.

Cano said he didn’t know Rutschman would catch him until he saw his teammate pop out of the dugout while he was jogging in from the bullpen. The realization prompted a reaction of “Damn, let’s go,” Cano said. After the inning, they united on the first base line, as they do after outings at Camden Yards.

“It’s awesome to do it just like we do it back home,” Cano said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It just shows the love. It was awesome to feel what we feel when we pitch together back home and things like that. He’s like my brother, so to be able to share that moment, show that love we have with each other, it’s amazing.”

Bautista did not have as smooth of an experience as Rutschman’s batterymate, the dominant closer allowing a go-ahead home run in the eighth by Colorado Rockies’ Elias Díaz on a night his command was clearly lacking.

Warming up, Bautista played catch with Cano, and Hays threw with Rutschman before Baltimore’s two position players shared a batting practice group with the Oakland Athletics’ Brent Rooker and Toronto Blue Jays’ Whit Merrifield. Hays’ initial rounds featured a custom orange bat, featuring “Hays 21″ in the same script as his Orioles uniform and a collection of black stars, one of which had his sons’ names, Levi and Hayden, in white. Hays made clear after he left the game that the autographs he collected this weekend from other All-Stars were because he, not his boys, would cherish them.

“It was everything I ever imagined,” Hays said. “Just getting to talk with all the guys in the locker room and just see how normal everybody is, it’s still a baseball locker room. It’s still a big league clubhouse.”

Rutschman, a switch-hitter, alternated rounds from the left and right sides. It was reminiscent of Monday night, when he shined in the Home Run Derby. A first-round elimination did little to take away from an experience he shared with his father, Randy, and the awe elicited when he swapped from left- to right-handed for his bonus time and blasted ball after ball out to left.

Hays took in the event with 2-year-old Levi. Even before he was named an All-Star, Hays said the title would mean a lot because it would be something to tell his sons about. At Tuesday’s red carpet event at Pike Place Market, Levi wore a jacket and Hayden a vest that matched Hays’ green suit. Cano and his wife, Arianny, donned navy along with their son, Cristopher.

Rutschman, though, was the team’s best dressed, with his golden patterned suit paired with a white shirt and sneakers among the event’s highlights. After taking batting practice in his game uniform, he did not hesitate to say which outfit was more his style.

“This one, for sure,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman has long felt at home on the baseball field. He has been viewed as one of baseball’s next stars since his sophomore season at Oregon State ended with a College World Series title and Most Outstanding Player honors in the tournament. The Orioles made him the No. 1 overall draft pick the next year, his selection coming amid a 2019 season that marked the first full campaign of Baltimore’s rebuild.

Three years later, Rutschman reached the majors, sparking a turnaround that ended with the Orioles as the best AL team to miss the postseason, while he finished as the runner-up for the league’s Rookie of the Year honor. Despite his demanding position, Rutschman has played almost every day in the middle of the lineup for a Baltimore team that entered the All-Star break with the majors’ third-best record.

But he alone has not been responsible, with the Orioles’ largest All-Star contingent since 2016 as evidence. Hays weathered injuries and the Orioles’ rebuild to earn his place among the sport’s brightest stars. Tuesday’s performance aside, Bautista has been perhaps baseball’s most dominant reliever. Cano has rivaled for that distinction, an unexpected breakout coming in a season he didn’t even make Baltimore’s opening-day roster.

“I still couldn’t sleep last night thinking about the fact that I’m here,” Cano said. “Starting out in Triple-A this season and getting the opportunity to pitch in this game and go out there and pitch the way that I did, it’s absolutely unreal.”

This story will be updated.


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