Inside the Rutschmans’ garage in Sherwood, Oregon, rest three buckets of baseballs.
They’ve been there since Adley Rutschman was a little boy, and while his father Randy has rotated the balls over the years because of the damage his son doles out to them during each batting practice session, those buckets are a staple of their relationship.
For as long as they can remember, Adley would ask his dad to throw to him. They’d go to a nearby high school or college field. Once there, Randy would empty those buckets in the form of pitches to his son, building the fundamentals at 9 years old that would make Adley such an all-around batter by 25, propelling him into a rising star in Major League Baseball.
But after the drills that reinforced a disciplined approach at the plate, Adley would rest his bat. He’d then look at his dad, and they knew what Adley was about to ask.
“Hey, do you want to do a quick Home Run Derby?” Adley would ask Randy. “Play the ‘What if?’ game?”
There’s no need to play the “What if?” game any longer.
On Monday night at T-Mobile Park, Adley Rutschman and his father will take the field. Randy will stand behind that L-screen, as he has for so many years out of the public eye. The buckets of balls won’t be their own, but that won’t matter. Instead of a quiet ballpark in Oregon, they’ll be surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the All-Star Game.
The cameras will be on them, father and son, yet they’ll be in their own shared world — a world they’ve imagined for nearly two decades. Adley Rutschman will compete in the Home Run Derby, and Randy will be throwing to him.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time with him,” Adley said. “That’s why I feel like it means so much, just because we’ve had so many BP sessions, so many fake Home Run Derby games — he’s always been the guy.”
The phone call came when Randy and his wife, Carol, were in the car. It was their son, telling them that MLB asked Adley to participate in the Home Run Derby. The choice for the league was straightforward, placing a Pacific Northwest native in the spotlight at a stadium Rutschman first played in when he was 8, when he won the regional Pitch, Hit & Run competition.
In truth, Adley didn’t even need to ask Randy the next question, but he did anyway, just so his dad would hear the long-dreamt words come out of his mouth.
“Will you throw to me?” Adley said.
Of course. Randy had never said no to that question, not in the long years they’ve played together.
“We had played this fantasy out quite a few times in our life,” Randy said. “I think for him and I, it was kind of like, we were surprised, but I think it was unspoken that I would throw to him if he ever did it.”
Their batting practice sessions using those three buckets of balls always included a game of some sorts, even as Randy’s pitches dotted all corners of the zone to find and solve any holes in his son’s swing. When Adley began as a switch hitter, he would challenge himself by counting whether he could record more hits with his right-handed swing or left-handed swing. He would play a line drive game or attempt to pepper opposite-field hits only.
Adley would save up, though, for the end. That’s when he would unleash his biggest swings, held in reserve until the last few hacks of their batting practice session. And after he sent a few balls over the fence — doing so without the raucous crowd that will be around him Monday — they’d pick up their balls and head home, another faux-Derby complete.
Both Rutschmans have Home Run Derby experience beyond the imaginary. When Adley was 10 or 11, he participated in a home run tournament with a youth baseball league.
Randy, a longtime college coach, threw in a contest before: Scott Bolcoa, the left-handed slugger for Riverside Community College who competed in the West Coast League’s summer Home Run Derby in the early 2000s.
“I have one moment of experience, and the guy won,” Randy said. “My record’s good right now, but it’s not very extensive.”
To prepare for his latest Home Run Derby — on a much larger scale — Randy joined Adley on the field at Yankee Stadium to throw him batting practice before a game last week. They worked out where in the zone Randy should focus, hoping to give Adley the best chance to go yard at T-Mobile Park.
They’ve done this for so long, of course, yet the limelight is much brighter here.
“I’m sure that I’ll have some nerves going with 40,000 people there,” Randy said. “But I’m also extremely grateful that I get this opportunity. I mean, shoot, this is something you dream about.”
They won’t carry their three buckets of balls onto the field themselves, and they certainly won’t pick them all up after Adley is done spraying them all over the park. But, just as they have since Adley was a little boy, they’ll partake in a Home Run Derby. Nothing else — not the crowd, not the results — matters beyond the little world that is pitcher and batter, father and son.
“We’re doing this together,” Adley Rutschman said. “We’re doing this to have fun. And this is a father-son experience of a lifetime.”