BOSTON — Adley Rutschman understands the emotions that generally accompany opening day. He’s felt them since his time at Sherwood High School, and again as a rising star at Oregon State University.
There’s the anticipation, for one. The nerves. A wiry energy that can carry a player through a game despite a night that might’ve been spent thinking more than sleeping.
But even then, Rutschman and several other young members of the Orioles have never experienced a true opening day. That is: A one-run game in the ninth inning at Fenway Park, when the fans rise to their feet and the noise drifts from home plate to the Back Bay Fens and around to the Charles River.
That’s what Rutschman felt Thursday, late in Baltimore’s 10-9 win against the Red Sox.
“OK, this is pretty cool,” he had to admit. Those opening days during college, when the Beavers would travel to Arizona and play in front of 5,000 raucous fans? “This definitely blew that out of the water,” Rutschman said.
Baltimore’s young core features five players who made their major league debuts last season: Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, Gunnar Henderson, Terrin Vavra and Kyle Bradish. On Thursday, they experienced a moment that was almost as memorable as their first time stepping onto a big league field.
They heard their name called pregame, lined up as a team along the third base line and watched as the giant American flag was unfurled on the Green Monster. It was the quintessential opening day experience, and here they were to experience it.
“Can you draw it up any better? Opening day at Fenway Park in the big leagues,” Stowers said. “The buzz around it, being a spectacle, an event, it’s not just another game.”
That feeling doesn’t change. Manager Brandon Hyde, experiencing his 12th opening day as a coach, told the clubhouse just that before Thursday’s win. He called it a “goosebumps moment” and a “first-day-of-school feeling,” and the smile could only be wiped off his face in the dugout pregame when the wind roared with all its might.
Left-hander Cole Irvin felt giddy in the clubhouse prior to the game, too, even though he wouldn’t even have to wear cleats because he doesn’t pitch until Sunday’s series finale. He experienced two other opening days, one in 2020 without fans due to pandemic restrictions and another with the Oakland Athletics in 2021 that holds a special place in his mind.
That year, he pitched against the Houston Astros’ in their home opener, and Irvin remembers the bullpen practically vibrating during his warmup session as the jets flew over Minute Maid Park.
“There’s just a lot of nervous positivity. It’s unlike any other emotion that you’ll get, maybe until you reach the postseason, but I can’t speak to that yet,” Irvin said. “Your legs are a little lighter, your arm’s feeling a little fresher, and that’s just the adrenaline that you have for the day. I’m not even playing and I’m excited and nervous, just because I’m excited to watch our team operate and play, and I think that’s what this day is.”
Henderson was grateful to get ahead of the feelings he knew would arrive on opening day.
When the Orioles took on-field batting practice Wednesday, he looked around the empty park. He’d already played at Fenway, already signed his name on the inside of the Monster, and yet he took a deep breath as he scanned the seats, mentally preparing for Thursday’s crowd.
That helped him walk twice in his first two at-bats; he was using the energy of the crowd for good. Vavra’s opening day emotions were powered by the fact he made the team, too, proving his versatility was worthy of a bench spot.
They’re different for everyone, in some way. But they all feel it — in whatever form it takes.
“You feel like you’re floating a lot of the time, or at least I do,” Irvin said. “I’m not trying to be poetic, but that’s what it is.”
Because on opening day, maybe only poetry could capture the emotions coursing through each player.