As a rookie, Rutschman catches a break
CORVALLIS — There may be no better all-around athlete at Oregon State than Adley Rutschman, the Beavers' place-kicking specialist in football and their starting catcher in baseball.
And he's a baby-faced 19-year-old freshman, less than a year removed from his days at Sherwood High.
Coach Gary Andersen loves Rutschman, who is on scholarship for football, kicked off for the Beavers last season, and will be in competition to handle all the place-kicking chores this fall.
But Rutschman came to Oregon State to play baseball, and he is doing it well for the No. 1-ranked team in the country. The 6-2, 210-pound player has started behind the plate in 33 of OSU's 38 games, and while he has struggled with the bat, he has done a superb job defensively, managing the nation's top pitching staff all season.
Playing both football and baseball at a Power Five conference school is a load for anyone, and it's a wonder Rutschman is able to handle his studies. But he has done that well, too, carrying a 3.4 grade-point average in business through his first two terms.
"You just have to have good time-management skills," Rutschman says modestly. "The academic advising program here has helped me a lot."
Few do it all as well as Rutschman has done it, especially in his first year of college.
"The kid is unbelievable," says Andy Jenkins, Oregon State's third-base coach. "Adley's an All-American boy, for sure."
Rutschman already is good as a collegiate baseball player. But it's hard not to gush about his potential.
"Before he's through, once he learns his mechanics, Adley is probably going to be the best catcher in the nation," says Ryan Ortiz, the former Oregon State catcher who is now an undergraduate assistant with the Beavers.
"Tremendous athlete, great size, switch-hits — he can catch in the big leagues some day," says coach Pat Casey, who doesn't toss around such verbal bouquets often.
Rutschman says he is having the time of his life.
"It's been a blessing to play with such great guys in both football and baseball, and to catch the amazing pitching staff we have here at Oregon State," he says. "The coaches in both sports have really helped me along. It's been a great experience, so far."
Sports is family tradition
If you're a sports fan in the state of Oregon, you know the Rutschman name. Ad Rutschman is a Hall of Fame football coach who guided the vaunted Linfield program from 1968-91, leading the Wildcats to three NAIA Division II national championships. Rutschman had a career record of 183-48-3 and enjoyed winning seasons in all of his 24 years on the job — part of the school's current national-record streak that stands at 61 years and counting.
Adley Rutschman is named for his grandfather, with a twist. His grandpa's given name is Adolph Rutschman III.
"The 'Ad' part of it is for me, but we have enough Adolphs in the family," jokes the senior Rutschman, now 85, who attends nearly every home game at Goss Stadium and made the trip to the Valley of the Sun to watch the Beavers play Arizona State in a three-game series earlier this season.
"I'll tell you something," Ad Rutschman says. "I enjoy not only watching him, I enjoy watching that team play baseball. I'm so excited, I can hardly wait for the next game. It's a big letdown from Sunday to Friday.
"Those coaches do an amazing job with those kids. I love the success they're having. I love the pride they bring to the Northwest. Pat Casey's staff has done a remarkable job."
Adley grew up around sports and always loved football and baseball. His father, Randy, was a catcher at Linfield, and schooled him well early on the tools of ignorance.
"Adley always wanted to play," Ad Rutschman says. "He loves to practice. All through his childhood, there was Randy, throwing him pitches at some park. Adley has been an unbelievable student of catching, and a big part of his development as a catcher is due to Randy."
"My dad has been the most influential person in my life," Adley says. "He helped me out so much learning the game, and also the position of catcher."
Rutschman was a two-sport standout at Sherwood, helping the Bowmen to a state title in both football and baseball. He was an all-league linebacker and kicker, last year booming a state-record 63-yard field goal in a playoff victory over Tigard.
By then, Rutschman — a two-time first-team all-state baseball player — had already signed a letter-of-intent to play that sport at OSU.
"Oregon State was always my preference," he says. "I was more keen to coming here than anywhere. I knew everyone here, and I'd heard such great things about the school and the program."
Andersen's staff came on to Rutschman late. The only school to recruit him as a kicker was Nebraska, whose coach, Mike Riley, coached under Rutschman's grandfather at Linfield.
"A couple of schools contacted my football coach, but he told them, 'He's playing baseball,'" Adley says.
During the summer, OSU's football coaches contacted Rutschman.
"They said, 'Hey, come to (training) camp and see how it goes,'" Adley says. "I thought it would be a good experience."
Rutschman won the kickoff job and held it through most of the season.
"I really enjoyed it," Adley says. "It was fun to be on the football team and get to know a bunch of great guys. And to be able to compete in games and finish off the season with a win over Oregon — it was an amazing experience."
Ad Rutschman chuckles over an anecdote relayed by Oregon State's special teams coach, Jake Cookus.
"Adley tackled (Stanford's) Christian McCaffrey on a kickoff return," the senior Rutschman says. "As McCaffrey got up, he told Adley, 'You mean to tell me I got tackled by the kicker?'"
From pitcher to catcher
Oregon State initially recruited Rutschman as a pitcher. He pitched throughout his career at Sherwood and served as the Bowmen's closer as a senior.
"He threw a 94-, 96-mph fastball, with an 86-mph slider," Casey says. "But he had some arm issues, and he wanted to be an every-day player."
Logan Ice — OSU's starting catcher the previous three years and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season — had moved on to the pros, so the job was open. Rutschman won it and has held it all season, demonstrating an unusual savvy for a first-year collegian.
"Adley has gone through growing pains like every young player does," pitching coach Nate Yeskie says. "He's starting to get it figured out, weekend by weekend.
"He's learning how the college game is played. There are little intricacies to the game. There are constantly base coaches who try to steal the signs. He's learning how to shield them. He's watching for hitters to see if they give something away. It's far more technical than people might think."
Says Adley: "Up here, it's about controlling and managing the games. That's a huge part you don't get in high school. You can't really understand it until you get here, with the pace we play at at this level."
Rutschman is learning, and he has plenty of help. There is Ortiz, a two-time first-team all-Pac-10 selection (2008 and '09) who went on to play seven seasons professionally, including two at the Triple-A level. And Jenkins and Casey, who both reached Triple-A during their playing careers. And Jake Rodriguez, another member of the OSU staff who was an all-Pac-12 catcher (2013) before playing professionally.
"All those guys have helped out a lot from the time I got here," Rutschman says. "They know what it's like to succeed at this level, and they know what it's like at the next level."
When Ortiz was a freshman, he learned under his predecessor, Mitch Canham, an all-Pac-10 catcher who was a leader on the 2007 national championship team.
"I was sitting behind Mitch as a freshman, trying to learn everything I could from him," Ortiz says. "That's what I'm trying to do with Adley, talking with him about different situations and letting him learn from me.
"He has always had the skills. He's a great receiver. His arm is unreal. He just has to open up and lead this team like he's been shown to do. But he knows the game well. His dad did a great job with him. He's going to learn a lot more. He's going to get a lot better. The pitching staff is doing great, and he deserves a lot of credit for that."
Says Rutschman: "Our pitching staff is phenomenal. I try to figure out what they like and don't like, which pitches are working on a certain day, communicating with Coach Yeskie and the pitchers. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm doing what I can to help."
Hitting needs some work
Rutschman's rookie struggles have come mostly at the plate. He is hitting only .202, though part of that is the role he plays at the defensive end.
"He catches just about every game," Jenkins says. "For a freshman, that's a real toll. Anybody who catches every day will tell you they feel it in their legs. We need to be attentive to that down the stretch.
"Elite pitching is getting him a little bit. He's able to fight off and get a hit here and there, but the consistency he's looking for isn't there. He has the physical tools. He's big and strong and just needs to make some adjustments and trust his strength. He goes up there and tries a little too hard. He gets a bit twisty with his upper body. But he's definitely going to be a banger for us before too long."
Casey believes that, too.
"Anybody who is a freshman in this league and playing a premier defensive position like catcher, you have to be something special," the OSU mentor says. "I have all the confidence in the world the guy's going to hit. Would you like him to hit .300? Yeah, but he will."
Rutschman singled home two runs in Sunday's 10-1 victory over USC that gave the Beavers a 2-1 series victory.
"He has come up with some big hits for us against Washington and UCLA," Casey says. "He is really good. He needs to hit better, but he is not doing anything that's letting us down."
Rutschman has had more than his share of hard-hit balls go right at fielders.
"That's something you just have to deal with," he says. "If you hit a line drive to the center fielder, you're going to be OK with that, because you put a good swing on it. Eventually, that turns into hitting better.
"You just have to stick with the process. To face Pac-12 pitching, you struggle sometimes. It's going to come around. You just have to make the adjustments."
Rutschman says Oregon State's No. 1 ranking is motivational for the players.
"We enjoy the challenge," he says. "There's no pressure on us. A lot of people say that, but as a team, we focus on ourselves and playing the best we can and being competitive every outing, every pitch. That's been our philosophy."
Rutschman's schedule is such that he hasn't been able to live the average student's life on campus. He doesn't feel he is missing a thing.
"I get to hang out with my football and baseball teammates," he says. "That's the social life I like. It's fun hanging out with these guys. If I get to do that a couple of more years, I'll be content with that."