Orioles connect with young fans at Little League Classic – Reading Eagle

Standing atop a hill surrounded by a crowd of kids half his height, Adley Rutschman looked out over the stage at Lamade Stadium. The Orioles rookie catcher was given a large sheet of cardboard and then asked the kid next to him for a plan.

“Are you ready?” Rutschman asked. “What are we doing? Are we working on it or what?”

“Um,” the kid replied with the kind of uncertainty an American League Rookie of the Year candidate might have when asking for directions. “I don’t think that’s smart.”

So Rutschman adapted. He tightened his belt to avoid a wardrobe malfunction. He crouched down, preparing to descend the mountain head first. Again, strong offers stopped this plan before it could get started.

“My parents tell me not to go headfirst,” Rutschman said, though one particularly ambitious observer informed Rutschman that when parents tell me not to do something, it usually means it’s more fun.

Rutschman turned over, put his back on the cardboard with his feet to the foot of the slope and went down in three jumps. A contingent of children around Rutschman rushed after their newly minted 24-year-old ringleader, sliding down their own cardboard or bounding on two legs—occasionally leaping—down the mountain.

Rutschman survived.

He covered the display with a barrel roll — “got to save himself,” Rutschman later said — before jumping to his feet to be swarmed again by fans hoping for autographs, photos or just a chance to stand next to a real big leaguer.

As right-hander Spencer Watkins walked through the crowd after rolling down the same mountain not long before, one guy approached the starting pitcher with wide eyes. Watkins and the rest of his teammates were dressed in orange Orioles jerseys to make them easily recognizable, but the kid wanted to make sure.

“You indeed Orioles?” – asked the boy. Yes, Watkins nodded.

For most of Sunday, when the Orioles visited Williamsport, Pa., to take part in the Little League Classic, they were in the spotlight. When their plane landed at the airport, the Indiana and Panama Minor League teams were there to meet the Baltimore and Boston Red Sox, who landed shortly after. When the Orioles entered the Little League World Series complex, the only thing separating them from the masses of fans were barriers.

On the hill overlooking Lamade Stadium, where the Orioles and minor leaguers mingled, there were no barriers — and even shared cardboard for a quick trip down the slope.

Watkins and lefty Keegan Akin were the first two Orioles down the slope. Not far as they went head-to-head, Watkins nudged his teammate to gain the lead.

“I race dirty,” Watkins said after the win.

“It’s not hard,” Akin interjected. “I’m slow.”

These moments are steeped in Sunday. Rookie outfielder Kyle Stowers said Watkins was the better runner, given his ferocious ability to push Aquino out of the way. Rutschman was adamant that infielder Richie Martin deserved to be recognized as the best, almost solely because of Martin’s hilarious background. Near the bottom, Martin lost control and ripped his legs out from under the child as he flew past an unsuspecting onlooker.

Martin thought that causing collateral damage could rob him of his reward.

“Damn, I feel bad, to be honest,” Martin said. “I didn’t even know I hit him, to be honest. His legs were so light. But I hope he is doing well. As I was coming down there was another kid in front of me who just got pulled over. So as soon as I tried to go around it, I just started spinning. It all ended from there.”

Manager Brandon Hyde wrestled Colton, his 14-year-old son, down the slope — and won.

“A little harder,” Hyde explained, which helped him gain momentum.

The slide down the hill was the most active part of Sunday, but the Orioles connected with fans throughout. When right-hander Joey Crabill saw the crowd around the team’s plane, he said, “I felt like we had gone to a new country and were being welcomed” as the host president.

He traded hats with one of the Little Leaguers, but outfielder Anthony Santander soon traded for a Caribbean hat, giving Krebill a hat representing Africa. Outfielder Austin Hayes loved the purple and blue hat he received. He said the scene reminded him of playing in the USSSA tournament at Disney World.

“The whole team would trade pins,” Hayes said. “I still have this towel at home. There are probably hundreds of different pins from teams from all over the world who came to play in this tournament.”

Hayes now has a few Minor League hats to add to his collection, and he wasn’t the only Oriole asking for autographs in return. Rutschman’s jersey had the signatures of the Minor Leaguers shining all over the orange — showing how many autographs Rutschman had signed.

Right-hander Dylan Tate pitched with the Minor League team from Hawaii. Earlier this week, he asked which pitcher took the mound because Tate had seen highlights of the pitcher’s outing and was impressed with “what he can do with the baseball for his age.”

Tate took off his hat and asked for the Little Leaguer’s autograph. “I need you to sign my hat,” Tate told him.

But there was no joy—or bated breath—to compare with the scene around Rutschmann on the mountaintop.

One parent, a father, told Rutschman not to get hurt. He is still a beginner, but he is a child at heart. So he quickly came down from the mountain, extending his hand to give high five, and slid into the hearts of many.


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