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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Oregon State breakout star, MVP sets sights on another baseball title

COURTESY: USA BASEBALL - Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman (left) starred for USA Baseball in a recent five-game series against a visiting team from Japan.The year 2018 could have gone better for Adley Rutschman.

He could have helped settle the conflict in Syria. He could have solved the homeless problem in America. He could have won the lottery.

As it was, Oregon State's sophomore catcher had quite a run.

The 6-2, 215-pound Rutschman hit a Pac 12-best .408 while setting school single-season records for hits (102) and RBIs (83). His .408 average is third on the school list and the best since 1987, when the Beavers had the likes of Chico State, Oregon Tech, Willamette, Pacific, Linfield and Western Oregon on their schedule. Rutschman set a College World Series record with 17 hits and was named Most Valuable Player as the Beavers claimed their third national championship in 13 years.

Less than a week later, Rutschman, 20, joined the U.S. national collegiate team and wound up hitting a team-high .355 with a .432 on-base percentage, earning MVP honors for his performance in a five-game series against Japan. Team USA finished 12-3 after winning three of four in Cuba.

It was a far cry from Rutschman's freshman year, when he struggled at the plate, hitting .234 for the Beavers, though still contributing mightily with his leadership and defensive work behind the plate.

"The most impressive thing to me is, Adley was the same guy he was the year before when he hit (.234)," OSU coach Pat Casey says. "He was the same guy to the pitchers, working with them, encouraging them, meeting them at the (foul) line after innings. He was the same type of leader. It wasn't just because he was swinging the bat so well. That speaks volumes about what kind of guy he is."

Now back with his parents, Randy and Carol, in Sherwood for the remainder of the summer, Adley gave the Portland Tribune the low-down on his season that was.

Tribune: A month after the fact, what are your thoughts about your accomplishments and winning the College World Series?

Rutschman: It's just now beginning to set in how special it was. I'm still talking to most of the guys who left — Nick (Madrigal), Trevor (Larnach), Cadyn (Grenier), Steven (Kwan), Michael (Gretler). They're all in minor-league ball now. It was so much fun playing with all of them. That you're never going to play with them again is bittersweet. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Tribune: When you were growing up, did you ever dream of winning a College World Series?

Rutschman: Oh yeah. At first, it was a dream just to play for the Beavers. Once they won it in '06 and '07, I wanted to be on the team that repeated it. I think about that. I was 8 when they won in 2006. There were a lot of kids this year who are at the age I was then, who got to watch our team go through this season. We all know what it feels like to be a kid looking up to players or a team. It makes what we did a little bit more special for me.

Tribune: How you do feel about winning the MVP award at Omaha?

Rutschman: It's a byproduct of the guys I had around me. They forced me to work hard every day. They had my back. When you have guys like Nick and Trevor and Michael around you, it makes your job a little bit easier. The coaches helped me improve my hitting this year. A big thank you to them for helping me out. (Winning the MVP) is something I wouldn't have dreamed of before the season, but now it's reality. It's something I'm proud of, and I'm glad to have had the guys around me to share in it all. That award is something I get to hold onto forever.

Tribune: What kind of a reaction have you received since you got back from Omaha from friends, fans, people you know, people on the street?

Rutschman: I'll go around town or to lunch and people will offer congratulations or say something nice about how it's made a difference in their summer. There are some pretty cool stories I've heard about people following us. Not everyone could get out to Omaha. It's neat to see the support we had back home, just how much it meant to everyone.

Tribune: How was your experience playing with Team USA?

Rutschman: It was a great honor to represent the country and to be able to play in a foreign country like Cuba. Being able to play with some of the best players in the country and a great coaching staff was a fun experience. International play is something else. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Tribune: What was Cuba like?

Rutchman: Like nothing I've experienced. In America, we don't realize the privileges and rights we have. They've opened things up a little, but it's still a Communist country. There's a little bit of a 1950s feel. They're still driving cars around from that era — which in a way, was pretty impressive. Just driving from the airport to the hotel, we saw all walks of life. There's a lot of stuff that's run down. There is some poverty.

Tribune: How were your accommodations, and the stadium in which you played the games?

Rutschman: We were fortunate enough to stay in a really nice hotel. They treated us extremely well. The stadium was good. They were just putting in a new scoreboard. The field conditions weren't SunTrust Park, but they were good.

The interesting thing to me was, we had maybe 1,000 fans in the stadium for the games, but the country revolves around that team. They averaged over 7 million (TV) views for every game. You go to a cafe down the street and people were talking about how they watched the game. They're so invested in baseball down there. That was cool to see.

Tribune: Could you communicate with the Cuban people?

Rutschman: Most of them spoke a little English — some better than others. I took two years of Spanish in high school. Me and a lot of my teammates had fun trying to speak Spanish with them. You can understand a little bit and formulate sentences. Somehow, we were able to communicate fairly well.

Tribune: How did you feel about winning the MVP in the Japan series? (The U.S. beat Japan three of five games.) You got to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the first game of the series, five days after wrapping up the College World Series title.

Rutschman: That was awesome. I didn't know what to expect. Japan has (its) unique style of play and pitching. I played pretty well. It was unexpected (to win MVP honors), but I'm glad to have done it.

Tribune: You nursed along a sore shoulder through the entire season, a condition that may have begun when you were in high school. How is the shoulder doing now?

Rutschman: It's feeling great. If it wasn't feeling good, I wouldn't have played summer ball. As the season progressed, it got better, which was good. It was nice for me to not have to worry about it and just go play, instead of that being in the back of my mind.

Tribune: It looked like you were lobbing it down to second after a pitcher's warmups between innings through the season. That made it seem like your shoulder was really hurting.

Rutschman: My freshman year, maybe I was going out there and trying to prove something. This year, I'd throw one down hard the first inning and maybe the ninth inning. Innings two through eight, I'd throw it easy and just work on the footwork exchange. You're throwing 130 balls back to the pitcher per game. You have to save your bullets a little bit.

Tribune: What are your plans for the rest of the summer?

Rutschman: Right now I'm lifting, running, doing strength stuff, some hitting. Nothing too heavy. You have to take a little break. Once fall ball starts, you're going the rest of the year. I'll make a couple of trips down to Corvallis to see some of the guys, play a little beach volleyball.

Tribune: So it won't be a lot of idle time after a long season?

Rutschman: Resting is a vague term. I have to be doing something. I can't sit around all day. If I feel unproductive, it's the worst feeling for me. I've been down to the beach. We went crabbing the other day — we got 30 legal males. I'll do a lot of catching up with my friends — go to a pool and hang out. Doing some golfing. Mom and I went to Chehalem Glenn (Golf Course) today. If I shoot low 80s, it's a good day.

Tribune: What kind of a team will Oregon State have next year?

Rutschman: We lost three first-round draft picks and some great leadership. Michael was a phenomenal leader, and Steven was one of the best leadoff hitters in the country. We'll be a much different team, but we're going to be very good. Most of our pitching is back. A lot of our freshmen developed a ton this year. I can only imagine how good they'll be next year. People think we're going to be young, but we'll have a lot of older guys, though with not as much game experience.

It's going to be a fun fall. Last fall, there were not many positions open. This year, it's open season. I'm expecting it to be very competitive. Guys are going to eat it up. It's going to be good for our team as a whole. No down days.

Tribune: How will your role change?

Rutschman: I've already talked to some of the older guys about our plan, how we want to go about our business, how we want to handle stuff. I'm really excited to try to take this team in a good direction and work with a lot of guys and the coaching staff and have another fun year and hopefully win another national championship. Now, that's our goal every year.

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