It’s a different type of smile.
A different experience and a different perspective. Live sports just hit different. At any point in life, there’s something special about immersing oneself in a ball game. The sights and sounds, the cheers and jeers. Even the taste of a dog and a beer.
I’ll skip the rest of the clichés, but there’s a reason so many exist. The ballpark is a workplace for players but an escape for fans. If you have found your way to this story, I’m guessing you’ve felt the connection a ballpark can produce.
There’s a reason I’m feeling extra nostalgic today. Last weekend I returned to my hometown to watch the Bowie Baysox take on the Altoona Curve. It was Mother’s Day weekend, but I can visit my folks at any point in the year. I was there to see 2019 top pick Adley Rutschman play some of his first professional baseball in over a year.
If you’ve never been to Altoona, well, that’s okay. But if you have never taken in a game at People’s Natural Gas Field (formerly Blair County Ballpark), it’s worth a trip. Like many minor league parks across the country, it has its own little quirks. However, there’s nothing little about the wooden roller coaster that sits just beyond the right field fence. It’s not a warehouse, but it does provide one of the more unique views in baseball.
The comparisons do not stop there. The “Altoona Mirror” clock that sits above the scoreboard is a direct tribute to Camden Yards, and other details were factored in before the stadium opened in 1999. I spent a year covering the Curve for “the Mirror” after college, and have taken in countless games as a fan. It holds a special place in my heart.
But enough about a baseball diamond and a roller coaster. If you’ve made it this far, you deserve to hear how Rutschman and his teammates looked in person.
Baltimore still views Rutschman as the catcher of the future, but the 23-year-old is playing some first base to protect his knees and keep his bat in the lineup. For what it’s worth, the defense translates to the right side of the infield. Rutschman, starting at first on Friday, snared a sharp liner down the line, tagged the bag and fired quickly to second in attempt to double off the runner. He was not tested often, but did not look out of position.
Rutschman went deep on Thursday, but elicited a small concession on Friday— he is human. He singled in his first plate appearance, but tagged up on a fly ball instead of running it out with two outs. The ball was caught, rendering the mistake irrelevant, but the mental lapse was noticeable to anyone that had their eyes fixated on the top prospect in the organization.
Rutschman finished the night 1-4, but holds a partial claim to another homer. The Altoona scoreboard incorrectly used Rutschman’s picture when catcher Chris Hudgins stepped to the plate. Hudgins, a minor-league Rule 5 acquisition, took the hint and walloped a line drive that ricocheted off the foul pole in left field. The ball would have traveled plenty farther than the 325 sign below it, and the blast generated an emphatic reaction from the Bowie dugout.
Rutschman went hitless Saturday afternoon but did work a walk. He took his place behind home plate and stopped several pitches in the dirt without letting one pass. Rutschman served as the battery mate for fellow first-round pick Cody Sedlock. Unfortunately for Sedlock, few if any made the Mother’s Day migration to watch him pitch.
Sedlock has posted a 4.40 ERA and 1.440 WHIP over five minor league seasons. He posted slightly encouraging numbers between High-A and Bowie in 2019, but lost that momentum sometime prior to his 2021 debut.
Sedlock recorded only one out and was pulled prior to the end of the first inning. He allowed a leadoff triple before a sacrifice fly cleared the bases, but followed with a double and an RBI single. The Illinois product walked the next two batters before Buck Britton gave him the hook. I’m guessing it was not the start Sedlock had hoped for.
While Sedlock struggled, a pair of Baysox hitters made a lasting impression. Patrick Dorrian doubled Friday night and smacked a ball that was gone from the word go on Saturday. Dorrian tallied a pair of home runs in the series and also walked four times. The Orioles acquired Dorrian in a 2019 deal that sent Yefry Ramirez to the Pirates.
Right fielder Robert Neustrom led to my last note of the weekend— “Neustrom looks like a hitter.” Eight hits in 22 at bats will generate that type of comment. Three of those knocks were doubles, and Neustrom also walked twice. Baltimore selected Neustrom in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
Sunday’s game was rained out which led to more family time for me. Still, the weekend provided more than a nostalgic trip. I noticed that Rutschman would run half way out to the mound just to bump gloves after an inning-ending strikeout. I discovered Altoona’s roster includes a player named Cal and another with the last name Pabst. The latter generates plenty of adult beverage-fueled chants.
The Orioles minor league system holds the most amount of talent in recent memory. I’d encourage everyone to make it out to a minor league park to watch Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall pitch, or to spot the next unheralded prospect to make it to the show. Seek out the smile that comes with live sports.
If you’re craving more minor league action, check out the minor league week in review.
Also, go visit your parents (if it’s safe to do so).