These O’s youngsters left their mark on Opening Day

March 31st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill's Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BOSTON -- ’s first big league Opening Day couldn’t have gone much better. A home run on his first swing. Five hits and six times on base. A slew of records set. It was a special day for the Orioles’ 25-year-old catcher.

But Rutschman wasn’t the only member of Baltimore’s 26-man roster who experienced the pageantry of Opening Day as an MLB player for the first time on Thursday. Five others did the same: right-handers and , infielder , outfielder , and utility man .

These Opening Day first-timers made their Major League debuts in 2022. But none of them were with the O’s for last season’s opener, as this year marked the first time each made the big league roster out of Spring Training and broke camp with the team.

“It’s very special,” Stowers said. “Obviously, they talk about a debut as being something that is a big landmark in someone’s career, but making Opening Day and getting to experience this for the first time is something that I’m super excited about and [I'm] very honored to be here.”

This week, Stowers’ locker is among five along the southwest wall of the clubhouse at Fenway Park. He has Henderson to his left and Vavra to his right. Rutschman is three lockers down on the right.

Vavra was selected by the Rockies in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft, then was acquired by the Orioles in a trade on Aug. 30, 2020. Baltimore's ‘19 Draft class featured Rutschman (No. 1 overall), Henderson (No. 42), and Stowers (No. 71). The four position players came through the Orioles’ Minor League system together in recent years.

So, it was only fitting they got to experience their first Opening Day and take in all of the pregame festivities together.

“It’s been a dream of mine, just to be able to start for a team on Opening Day,” said Henderson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect who went 0-for-3 with two walks and a run scored Thursday. “Years down the road, we can all think back to our first Opening Day together here.”

The fact it took place at Fenway Park -- the oldest MLB ballpark in use (opened in 1912) -- only added to the experience for these youngsters.

“You just can’t really draw it up any better,” Stowers said. “Waking up this morning and getting ready, you could just feel the energy and buzz around the clubhouse.”

Rutschman and Henderson were in Baltimore’s starting lineup, while Gillaspie worked one-third of an inning in relief, coming in to strike out Connor Wong for the final out of the eighth and stranding a runner at second base. Stowers and Vavra spectated the season-opening victory from the bench. So did Bradish, whose turn in the rotation won’t come until next week against the Rangers.

But all six players know the Orioles will count on them (and more) to try to build on their 83-win 2022 campaign. 

“We all experienced parts of last year, [and] had a lot of our firsts in the big leagues,” Vavra said.

With Opening Day over and one more first under these guys’ belts, the focus shifts to the next 161 games and trying to lead Baltimore to more success.

“We have a lot of expectations to go make a playoff push this year and make a good playoff run,” Henderson said. “I feel like that’s our No. 1 goal.”