Canzano: Pat Casey gets a front-row seat on Adley Rutschman's journey
Plus... the Big 12 follows Pac-12 strategy.
Pat Casey had a great seat at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Monday night.
“For sure,” he said, “behind home plate — real good.”
The former Oregon State baseball coach picked up a will call ticket that put him in wonderful position to see former OSU catcher, Adley Rutschman, hit a home run in Baltimore’s 9-2 win over the Mariners.
It’s been a blast to watch the rise of Rutschman. The former Sherwood High multi-sport star was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019. He got the call up to the big leagues in May and struggled at the plate for his first couple of weeks. But the switch-hitting rookie catcher is hitting .351 with three home runs in his last 10 games.
“He’s the real deal,” said Casey.
On Monday, a contingent of Rutschman’s family and friends gathered in Section 154 of the stadium. His legendary 90-year old grandfather, Ad, was among them. As Rutschman rounded third base during his third-inning home run, he pointed toward his grand dad in the crowd.
“It’s one of those life goals to have my grandpa be able to see me play in the big leagues, in a big-league stadium,” Rutschman said before the game.
Casey loved seeing it, too.
The former OSU baseball coach might be the greatest self-made, on-field, sports story in our state’s history. Casey attended Newberg High and the University of Portland and played multiple sports himself before he started winning baseball national championships as the coach at George Fox and Oregon State.
Meanwhile, Rutschman is a Sherwood kid, who once kicked a 63-yard field goal in a high school football game. He went to college in Corvallis and after flirting with being a dual-sport star as a freshman, ultimately, Rutschman focused on playing baseball.
There’s something about seeing a terrific player who grew up in Oregon excel at the next level. Nobody was surprised when Rutschman got the call to the big leagues after spending parts of three seasons in the minors, where he hit .281 with 30 home runs. But I especially loved what he did right before he pulled on the mask and took his position behind home plate for that first major league game in Baltimore.
He soaked the moment in and took a long look around Camden Yards. The gesture told the world, without a single word, how important getting there was to him.
His first MLB hit?
After that, though, the 24-year-old Rutschman struggled at the plate for a couple of weeks. His average dipped to just above .200 through his first 15 games. But he looked every bit comfortable on Monday night when he drove in a run with a first-inning single, then followed later with his third home run of the season.
Casey said he’s insanely proud of Rutschman. But he talks like that about all his former players. Earlier in the MLB season, the former OSU coach raved to me in a phone call about Steven Kwan’s blistering start at the plate in Cleveland. He stood on the sideline at the spring football game and told me he loves that his former players have taken over the program he built.
He has to feel great looking around the big leagues and seeing ex-OSU players such as Matt Boyd (Giants), Nick Madrigal (Cubs), Trevor Larnach (Twins) and Drew Rasmussen (Rays) continuing a legacy that starts with Casey.
The OSU coach didn’t get a lot of 1-on-1 time with Rutschman on Monday night. There was a line of family members and friends there to see their favorite catcher play for the first time in person.
“He’s got family, friends and teammates,” said Casey. It’s a good time for coach to stay in the back and enjoy it.”
NEW HIRE: The Big 12 Conference appears to be stealing the Pac-12’s playbook when it comes to their commissioner hire. Brett Yormark, the chief operating officer of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is reported to be finalizing a deal to become the Big 12’s new commissioner.
He’s an outsider to the world of college athletics.
So was George Kliavkoff, who now looks like a terrific hire by the Pac-12 a year ago. Kliavkoff was previously the president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts International. As part of his duty there, he oversaw booking, marketing and operations for a line of Vegas showrooms and theaters, including T-Mobile Arena.
I spoke with Kliavkoff a couple of weekends ago about his one-year anniversary on the job. He pointed out that college athletics is at an unusual pivot point, and noted that four of the Power Five Conference leaders have turned over in the last three years. Also, NCAA president Mark Emmert is stepping away.
“It’s created a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Kliavkoff told me.
College athletics now appears in at least a couple of cases to be turning toward executives with experience in sponsorship, licensing, entertainment and brand strategy.
Yormark, 55, is well connected and has worked with a variety of high-profile artists, athletes and leagues. Like Kliavkoff, he comes to college athletics from the world of entertainment, marketing and operations.
I don’t blame the Big 12 one bit. They must have looked over at the Pac-12’s uptick in trajectory and forward-thinking focus in the last year and said, “Gimme some of that.”
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Pat Casey is an Oregon, and American, treasure.
Adley will be one of the greats. Good read.