OMAHA, Neb. –– In the fall of 2016, as the Oregon State baseball team was preparing for the upcoming season during fall ball and offseason workouts, Adley Rustchman was in a different uniform and in a much different environment.
He stood on the near-side hash mark at Stanford’s football stadium in front of 38,813 people on Nov. 5, in perfect 63-degree Northern California weather. Sixty-five yards downfield, staring directly at him, was Christian McCaffrey, one of the sportl’s most electrifying players.
Rutschman was the kicker on the Oregon State football team then, a rare two-sport athletes in college, especially at the Division I level. He pooched the kickoff to the Stanford 15-yard line and, after McCaffrey returned the kick 23 yards, was the man who stopped the Cardinal standout at the 38-yard line.
After the play was over he helped McCaffrey up to his feet and the two said a few words and patted each other on the back before heading to their respective sidelines. “[Rutschman] is a sweetheart,” said his teammate, closer Jake Mulholland, in the bowels of TD Ameritrade Park.
Now, roughly 600 days later, Rutschman has the hottest bat in Omaha at the 2018 College World Series and owns one of the most impressive program records in Oregon State history.
But how did he get here?
For starters, gone are the shoulder pads and chrome helmet with a Beaver decal, and in their place are a Demarini bat, a Wilson catcher’s mitt, and a baseball cap with “OSU” written across it in black and orange block letters.
He made the switch to become a full-time baseball player after last season, and has been with the Beavers’ baseball team throughout the fall and into the 2018 season. It was a hard decision, but one Rutschman knew he needed to make to reach his full potential.
Rutschman has 9 hits and 10 RBI in 5 CWS games.
— Oregon State Baseball (@BeaverBaseball) June 24, 2018
“I think the ultimate decider was what I want to do,” he said. “What I see myself doing. I want to play baseball as long as I possibly can, and I think the best way I can give myself the opportunity to do that is to play baseball.
“Being able to play two sports in college was a blessing, and not a lot of people get to say that they’ve done it. I ultimately knew it was the right decision.”
Rustchman is hitting .571 at the 2018 CWS and has recorded nine hits, three doubles, one home run, 10 RBI and a ridiculous seven walks through five games at TD Ameritrade Park. He’s six hits away from tying a CWS-record, just one double shy of tying the College World Series record.
Adley Rutschman is the first player with 10 RBI in a College World Series since Arizona State’s Kole Calhoun had 11 in 2009.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 24, 2018
Oh, and by the way, he has a school-record 80 RBI this year, the most by a Pac-12 player in a decade. He broke the previous record of current MLB player Michael Conforto, who now patrols the outfield for the New York Mets.
“Breaking the RBI record, that’s crazy,” shortstop Cadyn Grenier said. “The last guy who had that is in the big leagues right now and it just tells you Adley’s potential and what he can accomplish after college is over. It’s been pretty incredible.”
But to break that RBI record, he needed a little bit of help from his teammates. As star second baseman Nick Madrigal put it: “He doesn’t have 80 RBI because he’s hit 80 home runs.”
For Rustchman, driving in all those RBI is a little easier when three first-round picks are hitting in front of you — in Madrigal, Grenier, and right fielder Trevor Larnach — at the College World Series. And the Beavers’ normal leadoff man Steven Kwan (who hasn’t started the last three games with a hamstring injury he suffered against Washington) was a fifth-round selection in this year’s MLB draft as well.
Perhaps his biggest at-bat of the season came with one out in the bottom of the eighth when the Beavers were trailing 6-3 in an elimination game against North Carolina. Rutschman came up with the bases loaded and hit a bases-clearing double deep into the Omaha mist in center field to tie the game, creating the turning point for Oregon State in the CWS.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 21, 2018
“We knew we were in good hands,” Kwan said a few days later.
Kwan, the man with the most confidence in Rustchman to deliver in that spot, knew this was coming before the he even stepped foot on campus in Corvallis. The two had played together on the Corvallis Knights in the West Coast League in the summer prior to Rustchman’s freshman year at Oregon State.
“That guy … I thought I had a pretty good arm, and playing catch with him? He’s blowing me out of the water,” Kwam said. “That was the first thing. His (batting practice) was crazy. I know he had the potential right off the bat.
“Last year he was just having the glimpse of power, but this year he’s really putting it together. It’s unreal. He just gets in great counts He hits good pitches, like, good pitcher’s pitches. That’s one of the most impressive things.”
Beavers coach Pat Casey knew the potential was there, too.
Oregon State won back-to-back titles in ’06 & ’07! pic.twitter.com/JSGPdNXjEM
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 24, 2018
“When you don’t play fall baseball and you’re playing football, it makes it kind of tough to develop some of the things when you come, in he’s been a multi-sport athlete in high school, Casey said. “I think the big key for him is just getting to the point where he was just a baseball player.”
Since Rustchmaan became solely a baseball player, his numbers have increased immensely. The switch-hitting catcher is one of the best two-way players in the country, and is already in consideration for one of the top picks in the 2019 MLB draft.
Rustchman doesn’t care about next year’s draft or the school record, and he definitely won’t remind you that he tackled the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, either. He’s all business, and like most players on Oregon State, only have one goal in mind.
“With the team, we’ve got and how far we’ve come, where we are at now … stats don’t really matter at this point,” he said.
“It’s all about the three-game series we have coming up and it’s about the team right now.”