TORONTO — As the sold-out crowd at Truist Park in Atlanta began to bellow in full force while performing the chop chant, Adley Rutschman paused what he was doing to take it all in.

He’s not new to this anymore. Rutschman is no longer a rookie. He’s been with the Orioles for a full 162-game season.

But Rutschman never wants any of this to feel completely normal. So, during the game in early May, Rutschman listened to that cacophony of sound, the atmosphere that comes when two of the best teams in baseball meet, and allowed it all to wash over him.

“This is awesome,” he remembers thinking. “This is the coolest thing. This is what baseball is all about right here.”

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Sunday will mark the first anniversary of Rutschman’s arrival to the major leagues, that momentous day on which Baltimore’s dreamed-of future suddenly reached the present. In the time since, much has been said about the catcher’s influence on the Orioles. A losing club suddenly turned into a winning one. A rebuilding team suddenly sought a place in the postseason.

To Rutschman, though, there is a series of little moments that sticks out most clearly in his head.

And, on the eve of the anniversary of his call-up to the Baltimore Orioles, Rutschman reflected on those moments in the visiting clubhouse at Rogers Centre. The rush of his debut, the 10-game winning streak, a visit to his childhood home during the All-Star break — they’re all moments he’s eternally grateful to have experienced.

“It just goes by so fast,” Rutschman said. “That’s just life, I guess. It’s crazy to think about all the memories that have happened in just a year, and hopefully a lot more to come. It’s exciting to be here right now and have this opportunity and definitely try to take those moments to reflect and be thankful for the moments I’ve already had.”

In the days leading up to Rutschman’s promotion last year, he had a feeling the long-awaited debut might be around the corner. He was called into the office after a road game for Triple A Norfolk, sat down and learned the life-altering news.

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In the next 24 hours, everything blurred. He called to tell his family. He boarded a flight to Baltimore while family and friends did the same, booking last-minute accommodations with only a few hours’ notice.

Rutschman had visualized that moment nearly all his life, since he was old enough to dream of a future in Major League Baseball. When he finally took the field at Camden Yards and slowly turned at home plate to create a full mental picture to last a lifetime, “it’s just more than you can really imagine.”

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“You think about the journey to get there; you’re thinking about yourself as a kid,” Rutschman said. “It’s all coming to you at once.”

Manager Brandon Hyde knew what Rutschman was going through. As a coach with the Chicago Cubs, he’d seen his fair share of high-level prospects reaching the majors. That whole day, Hyde tried to “take as much pressure off him as I possibly could, knowing that there was going to be a lot of attention on that day, and that there was going to be a lot thrown at him.”

“I’ve seen that before, with a rookie that’s been hyped up as much as he was, with a few of the guys in Chicago with billboards in the town when a guy isn’t even in the big leagues yet,” Hyde said. “And understandably so. I get it. You want to wrap your arms around a player and the city is excited about it, and I knew all those things. I just was trying to have him relax as much as possible and let him go play, and I’m sure that day was a whirlwind for him.”

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That was never a surprise, given Rutschman’s pre-anointed place as the savior of an organization — whether that was fair or not. He was the first overall selection in the 2019 MLB draft, and the first pick of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ reign in Baltimore.

“I don’t think there’s any way to look around the league right now and see what he’s done over the past calendar year and make the argument that he’s not a top-five catcher or so in baseball right now,” Elias said. “And I think, as he continues to improve, he should be in the conversation for No. 1.”

But those labels matter little to Rutschman. He cares less about the conversations for No. 1 catcher in baseball than he does for his teammates. When his pitchers have a difficult outing, he feels the weight of it, taking the fault on his shoulders. He celebrates their successes with his now-signature hugs — because words alone don’t convey how happy he feels.

That’s the essence of Rutschman’s first year with the Orioles, for him.

When he takes time to reflect on all of this — and he does frequently, be it at Truist Park when the crowd gets loud or when talking to his parents — wins are important.

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But the little moments are everything to Rutschman. And these 365 days of life in the majors are just the start.

“You try to take moments to be thankful for where you’re at,” Rutschman said. “And it gives you motivation to continue to press forward when you’re tired.”

Orioles closer Félix Bautista receives one of catcher Adley Rutschman's signature hugs after securing the final out of a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 12 at Camden Yards. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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