Rutschman the star as Birdland Caravan begins

February 8th, 2020

ABERDEEN, Md. -- As the anticipation built, rubbed his palms together. He hopped in place, spun once and gave his left cheek the slightest tap, as if to snap himself into the zone. Then he dove through the doors into a roar of applause. 

Inside, Hall’s Cross Roads Elementary gymnasium reached high decibel-level volume upon Rutschman’s arrival. It hardly lowered over the course of the next hour, when Rutschman was part of the Orioles contingent that visited and played games with the roughly 500 young students present.  It was the kind of scene the Orioles envisioned when they reimagined their offseason community outreach goals this winter, headlined by the 12-city, 15-stop Birdland Caravan weekend tour that began Friday.

The tour continues Saturday and Sunday with public events in Ellicott City, Annapolis, Upper Marlboro, Frederick and Westminster before the Orioles travel south for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the club’s complex in Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday.

“It gets you excited for the season,” Rutschman told “To see fans face to face and be able to interact with them, it makes it more special and it creates a tighter bond. I think it’s a great opportunity and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Consider the feeling mutual. Rutschman was far from the only Orioles figure to participate in Day 1 of the caravan, with Brandon Hyde, , Fredi González and others making appearances across greater Baltimore. But at all three stops Friday -- the group of Rutschman, , González and Tim Cossins also participated in a community project in Fallston, and rendezvoused with Hyde and others for a meet-and-greet in White Marsh -- the reaction to Rutschman was the same: controlled bedlam.

The reigning top overall draft pick is a draw at the dawn of his first big league Spring Training, perhaps the biggest in Birdland these days. That should only continue next week in Sarasota.

“We’re all excited to have him in camp, excited for him to get this experience, and I’m looking forward to watching him play,” Hyde said. “Everybody remembers their first Major League camp, and it’s going to be great to have him around our Major League coaches and to be around some of our catchers who have been through it a little bit. He’s going to get a lot of experience out of that. It’s going to be a camp he never forgets.”

Asked what he hopes to take from the experience, Rutschman said simply “hopefully get some ABs, get ready for the start of the season.” The Orioles believe there is more for MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect to absorb. They see the assignment as part of an early on-boarding to Major League life, where Rutschman can rub shoulders with current big leaguers, receive personalized instruction from Hyde and Cossins (who both come from catching backgrounds), and get a taste of an atmosphere they hope soon becomes routine.

Rutschman figures to be a major attraction on the backfields and late in Grapefruit League game action for fans who missed his brief stints at Class A Short-Season Aberdeen and Class A Delmarva last summer. How he handles himself will help the management decide whether he’ll begin 2020 in Delmarva or at Class A Advanced Frederick. Wherever he does, the expectation is for Rutschman to rise quickly. 

“Big league camp is going to be a great experience and I’m looking to build off that,” Rutschman said. “I’m heading down tomorrow so it’s going to be a good time. Expect the unexpected.”