Adley Rutschman, the O’s bright, humble (and surprisingly goofy) star

May 26th, 2023

NEW YORK -- It's 11 a.m. on a rare off-day and Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman is about to dive into a heaping mound of ribs, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and so much more at Harlem's Dinosaur BBQ. It's not the usual breakfast for the superstar -- he tends to prefer the more typical eggs, bacon, and hash browns to start his day -- but it's the perfect place for the BBQ aficionado to kickstart a media morning filled with an MLB Network interview and a trip to MLB's offices before getting a chance to relax and take in New York City.

"So, sneaky for me, I think a barbecue spot -- mac and cheese is like the make or break [dish]," Rutschman told MLB Network's Lauren Shehadi before digging into the gooey dish of pasta. "I don't know why, like obviously ribs and all the meat is important, but mac and cheese is the make or break for me at a good barbecue spot."

One full calendar year into his Major League career and Rutschman has not just become the face of the Orioles franchise, but his hot bat and handling of the pitching staff have helped launch the O's into the thick of the AL East race. Given his quintessential baseball physique -- he stands 6-foot-2, with the kind of broad shoulders and square jaw that scouts dream about -- and his prospect pedigree (College World Series champion with Oregon State, first overall selection in the 2019 Draft), you might assume that Rutschman was destined for all this success. That he was born knowing from the very first time picking up a bat that he would become a Major League phenom.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

"I really didn't have a lot of confidence in myself when I was in middle school, high school, even into college," Rutschman said. "I always kind of thought that I was good, but I didn't know if I was good enough. Like, I didn't know if I was good enough to play college baseball. And then I was like, 'I don't know if I'm good enough to play D1.' And then I was like, 'I don't know if I'm good enough to play pro baseball.' You always have that doubt that creeps in."

Even in a sport that is predicated on failure, it's rare to hear an athlete reveal the insecurities that plague them just like the rest of us mere mortals who don't have the ability to hit the ball 420 feet or block a slider in the dirt. But Rutschman has a maturity that seemingly belies his years. He's thoughtful and soft spoken, and even when he's in the middle of an interview, he often turns the question around, wanting to hear the perspective from the person he's speaking with.

"I want to be like the best version of myself as a baseball player," Rutschman told Shehadi. "I focus more on the day-to-day, trying to win each day, trying to make the most out of every day. Make sure I'm not taking anything for granted as opposed to being doubtful that like, 'Oh, am I good enough?' I think that kind of shifted in college for me."

He wants to stay in the moment and tries to look at this sport as an opportunity and a blessing, rather than focusing on the stressful aspects or the weight of expectations placed upon him.

"The fact that we get to play in front of fans, while other people may not be as fortunate as you to do this, to be in your situation," Rutschman said. "If you're wasting that opportunity, then you're doing yourself a disservice. I think just every day that we go out on the baseball field, and you look at it as an opportunity, and regardless of how you did, whether you failed that day -- are you getting better? Are you becoming the best version of yourself instead of comparing yourself to others and what you're not doing?"

Rutschman poses at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. Photo by Daniel Shirey

While Rutschman's humility may make him stand apart from the typically cocky No. 1 Draft picks and superstars in baseball history, there's something else that may surprise a lot of fans: The catcher with the weight of the Orioles future on his back is also remarkably funny. A huge comedy fan, Rutschman united the comedy nerd and baseball fiend fan groups when he was filmed quoting the cult hit sketch comedy show, "I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson," during a workout in Oregon over the winter.

"It was funny because we're filming and we're just tossing around quotes and what they used in the video was just all the quotes," Rutschman remembered with a laugh. "I was really surprised that was the video that they came up with, because we did a lot of filming and that was the first video that came out. I was like, 'No way they just did this for the entire video.' But I thought it was awesome. It turned out cool."

Away from the field, Rutschman often turns to TV and movies to unwind and get his mind off the game. While there is a lot he enjoys -- he recently finished a rewatch of the entire "Harry Potter" film franchise -- comedy holds a special place in his heart.

"I really love comedy and I think a lot of all my humor for the most part comes from stand-up and movies and stuff like that," the Orioles star said. He grew up watching Will Ferrell movies like "Talladega Nights," and "Step Brothers," while mainlining Adam Sandler's work.

"Then it just kind of grew with stand-up like Kevin Hart, Sebastian Maniscalco, Bill Burr -- all that," Rutschman said. "Now, 'I Think You Should Leave' is at the forefront. It's kind of evolved."

While ITYSL (as its fans affectionately abbreviate it) has a special place among the chronically online sports fan -- there are popular NHL and NBA-themed meme accounts -- the show has yet to take over the Orioles clubhouse. That may be surprising for a team whose energy seems to mirror the wackiest and funniest college ballclubs -- just look at the "Homer Hose" for proof of that (though Rutschman offered that the team is simply "huge proponents of staying hydrated"). Still, the catcher thinks next week's ITYSL season three premiere may change all of that.

"Honestly, it's mostly my friends back home who are the big fans of ['I Think You Should Leave,']" Rutschman said. "I've tried to get a couple of [teammates] on it. They like a couple of the skits, but they're still not sold on it. I think when season three comes out and they're forced to watch the first two seasons in full, it will be better."

As for which ITYSL sketch is his favorite? It's simple: The Game Night sketch featuring Tim Heidecker as the absolute worst person to invite to your party. And if Rutschman had to choose a single quote to put in his yearbook, it would come from season two's ghost tour: "You can't change the rules just because you don't like how I'm doing it."

Given his close attention to the show and his love of laughing, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that Rutschman doesn't avoid the camera, either. Though he wasn't the high school kid making short films or starring in Vines, he has plenty of fun turning the camera on and shooting his own sketches for TikTok. It started with a pandemic dance video and has led to bringing his Orioles teammates in on the joke and even giving catching tips with his family members via foam darts.

He's happy to leap out of his comfort zone, too. After finishing his hefty, heavily BBQ-sauced breakfast, Rutschman put on an MLB polo shirt and went undercover at the MLB flagship store.

Or, rather, he tried to go undercover.

Excited to do his best version of "Impractical Jokers" and more than ready to create so-awkward-it's-funny moments, the most difficult part wasn't cracking jokes or staying in character, it was that fans kept recognizing him, asking him more for autographs than help shopping.

"It's way better when people don't know anything [about you]," Rutschman said. "Then you can talk about other people on your team or yourself without them knowing that it's you. You can just bag on yourself."

Rutschman still enjoyed getting to mess with complete strangers, and he even stumbled upon teammate and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez by pure happenstance on the streets outside the shop. 

"It was fun to mess with people. A very unique experience," Rutschman said. "I've never done anything like that. So cool to do and cool to see my fans come out and be excited."

Whether in front of the camera or crouched down behind the dish, Rutschman seems determined to make the most of his MLB career. But more than any of that -- the fame, the views, the home runs -- he wants to be recognized as a good person.

"I don't know what kind of person I am. That's for other people to decide," Rutschman told Shehadi. "But I guess the person I want to be is someone that's invested in others, and at the end of the day when my baseball career is done, they said I was a good teammate and that I went about things the right way."

And who knows, maybe there's an "I Think You Should Leave," cameo somewhere in the catcher's future, too. 

"I'd probably compliment him and say he's a funny guy," Rutschman said about the chance of ever meeting Tim Robinson. "I love his stuff. I think the worst thing I could do is probably just quote all that stuff back to him."