I wish I could have been at Adley Rutschman’s first game this weekend.
Essentially, that’s the crux of the pseudo-debate that emerged amid the overwhelming excitement of the MLB debut of the 2019 No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick. The immediate reaction was something close to pandemonium. That pandemonium was met with a stark realization from so many (myself included) within the region that as much as they might have liked to attend, they simply could not.
That, of course, led to an inevitable pissing match between people both reasonable and unreasonable about the topic. And as seems to be the case so often in the social media era, “reasonable” didn’t stay in the chat for very long.
Bluntly, it would have been nice if the Baltimore Orioles had gone a little further out of their way to make Adley Rutschman’s first game, the single most significant baseball moment in Baltimore since at least 2016, more accessible to the greater community. They did not “owe” it to anyone, it does not make them evil in any way and in the grand scheme of life it is not overwhelmingly significant.
But there is no fundamental argument to the concept that this could have gone better.
I certainly understand that not every Orioles fan cares about the Preakness. They have no obligation to! They do, however, have to understand that there is no single event, be it sporting or not, that is as significant to the city (and state) as the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. There is nothing that remotely compares to the economic impact of the event.
Which isn’t to say the entire state has to shut down for it, although there are arguments to be made about how the area could even better embrace the weekend. The Orioles routinely benefit from visiting tourists making a stop at the park on Friday or Sunday while they’re in town for the race (NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport was one such tourist who did that very thing this weekend).
Combining Preakness with a less than 12 hour heads-up for Rutschman’s debut led to a crowd of 17,573 fans at the ballpark for the event. Again, the Orioles had no obligation to prioritize the availability of their fan base over whatever baseball decisions went into the timing of Rutschman’s promotion. That doesn’t mean it isn’t disappointing that it worked out this way.
We can recognize that without name-calling and performative theatrics. There has been an argument that perhaps the Orioles did not want to put too much pressure on Rutschman by hyping his debut in advance. But if a 30,000-plus person crowd can rattle the man who is viewed as the centerpiece of an entire franchise, umm, well, we might have bigger problems. I don’t buy it.
At the crux of the issue is the simple indisputable fact that far more Orioles fans would have liked to attend Rutschman’s first game than were able to. I know not only because I was one of them but also because, well, so many of them made it known to me as I made the rounds at Pimlico Saturday.
It’s a bummer. There’s no getting around it. If Rutschman becomes the generational talent so many of us believe him to be capable of becoming, it’ll be an eternal bummer. And it’s a shame it cast even the smallest shadow over what was otherwise a pretty magical baseball weekend. The Orioles did many things right! The video content was good! The replica ticket giveaways were very smart!
And the most important part of all of this is that Adley Rutschman is here and he brought a pretty fair amount of excitement with him! I might trademark the phrase “The Audacity of Hope” to describe the feeling within a fan base that has shouldered quite the load for the last five years! It PROBABLY won’t lead to a playoff run this year but there is reason for optimism and yes, that matters far more than many of us being bummed that we weren’t able to enjoy a significant baseball game.
There’s one other thing.
I’m aware that because we live in internet “dunk on” culture, Orioles fans must immediately say “shove it, nerd” any time ESPN’s Buster Olney visits Elon Musk’s internet. I don’t make the rules. I also don’t enforce them. But I acknowledge their existence where I must. So when Olney pointed out the oddity of Rutschman donning a uniform number of a Hall of Fame former Oriole who for some reason hasn’t had his number retired, Orioles Twitter was quick to erupt.
But if I’m being honest, I am more than a bit conflicted here.
Let me start by stating the obvious. I am aware that Rutschman is not the first and that others have worn No. 35 since Mussina. I am aware that Mussina chose to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame with no logo on his cap and that the Orioles have either formally or informally decided that such a sin is the breaking point when it comes to recognizing their Hall of Famers. I’m never going to be OK with that. Imagine the Cubs and Braves choosing not to offer their highest honors to Greg Maddux (both have retired No. 31, for the record).
It makes us look small. We’re penalizing one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise simply because he would not take an oath of fealty. It’s sad. It makes us seem fragile. “Tell me I’m the prettiest or I’ll never care about you!”
Yet, plot twist, I actually DON’T agree with Olney. Stay with me. I’m not a fan of the entire concept of permanently retiring numbers in sports. We’re going to run out of numbers at some point! Do we expect pro sports teams to simply disappear within the next 100 years? Will we force all baseball players to wear Spring Training numbers in the 23rd century?
Numbers should be “retired.” Teams should be able to work with their legends (or the families of such legends) to create special moments where numbers go back into rotation after they’ve been taken out for a lengthy amount of time. While Mussina is one of the more recent legends in franchise history, he’s been out of Baltimore for more than 20 years! If the number had stayed out of rotation for that time, a great opportunity would have been presented for the team to ask the former ace to make a quick video welcoming a new No. 35 to town and wishing him well.
Perhaps you keep some other numbers (5 and 8 in particular) out of rotation a little longer, but in general, numbers can’t stay retired forever. As a genius once said, “Forever never seems that long until you’re grown.” I’m grown now. Forever is too long. But still, we need to stop disparaging Mike Mussina just because the Orioles didn’t re-sign him. It’s a really sad look for us.
OK. I think that’s it. I wish I could have been there. I know many of you do too. But Rutschman is here now and I hope my kids and I watch him play 500 times in Baltimore and then the kids put their old man in a car and drive him to Cooperstown so we can all watch him enter the Hall of Fame and celebrate the five World Series he won in Baltimore.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles