It has been a rather miserable (although at least expected this season) stretch for the Orioles and their fans of late. There's really no way around that. To say the least, it hasn't been fun. More practically, it's been downright miserable.
But this week presented an endorphin rush comparable to winning the Baltimore 10 Miler. And I would know, considering I just won it* this past weekend.
(*35-year-old internet talk show hosts who had five days to prepare and had never run before division)
I hung out with a group of passionate Orioles fans at Jimmy's Famous Seafood June 3 to watch the Orioles select Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first pick in the MLB Draft. It was a much-needed moment of catharsis for a fan base that appears to be on board with the long-term plan but is still understandably struggling in the moment.
Hope has arrived. Hope is real. Hope is warranted.
Instead of blindly throwing faith toward a first-time general manager, this city's baseball fans can place their collective hope in a baseball player. When friends around the country make fun of us for the team going weeks (if not months) without winning as much as a single series, we can now just say something like, "We're just waiting on Rutschman," to disengage our foes.
This was the moment we needed on the front end of a complete rebuild.
But, yeah, that's the thing. We have to remember that this merely is just the front end of the rebuild. In fact, you could argue the "rebuild" part didn't actually even BEGIN until this week. The "teardown" was handled throughout the last year, but there needed to be a foundation to begin the actual rebuild process. The duo of general manager Mike Elias and Rutschman now represent said foundation.
So yeah, we're excited. We're amped. There's some actual excitement in Birdland for the first time in awhile. We're ready to go. We're ready to see something happen. And unfortunately we're gonna have to be ready to keep waiting.
That's the frustrating part. While Rutschman entering the Orioles' galaxy has allowed for activity to actually be able to be recognized on our collective electrocardiogram machine, our nurses will need to keep checking for that pulse fairly regularly for some time.
This process is still miles away from coming to fruition. While it has been pleasant to see prospects like outfielder DJ Stewart and catcher Chance Sisco called up in recent weeks, we still can't say with certainty how many pieces in the system are certain to be a part of this thing whenever the team is competitive again. If we had to bet in order of likelihood, we'd bet Rutschman and ... probably pitcher Grayson Rodriguez next? He's at Low-A ball! But that's where we are right now.
There will need to be more top draft picks. As much as we'd like to see these prospects pan out quickly at the major-league level, this team would still be well served to have a few more top picks in the coming years. There's strength in numbers. Remember that the Houston Astros saw just ONE (Carlos Correa) of their three consecutive top picks actually pan out. (In fairness, their failure to sign lefty pitcher Brady Aiken led them to star infielder Alex Bregman, but still).
Orioles fans should again embrace rooting for the Kansas City Royals while accepting that staggering stretches of losing simply aren't the end of the world.
Orioles fans should embrace hashtags like #TankForTork (Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson), #MehForEH (Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock) and #BlowItForBlaze (Mississippi high school infielder Blaze Jordan) the way they did #PlayBadlyForAdley and #QuitForWitt a year ago.
This organization still needs more high-end talent. Rutschman will almost certainly enter top prospect lists immediately, and he'll likely be a consensus top-30 player. That's good news considering that when he reaches the top 30, it will now give the Orioles a grand total of ... one of those players.
Don't allow the excitement of a draft pick to dupe you into thinking this process has been expedited.
That said, if Rutschman ends up at Aberdeen, Delmarva (or even Frederick?) this summer, get to those stadiums. Go en masse. Make them group outings with your Orioles fan friends. Go to multiple games in the same weekend. Book a bed and breakfast and tell your spouse you planned a nice romantic getaway and, "Oh, hey look, there just happens to be a quaint little baseball stadium nearby, do you think we should check it out? Wow! Tomorrow they're having Harry Potter night! Don't you love Harry Potter? We should come back!"
Check box scores from minor league games every damn day. This is what we've got. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Make homemade Orioles Rutschman jerseys. Share GIFs of home runs he hits in ballparks that have nothing but a single camera to broadcast them.
Enjoy what we've got. But remember that we're still very much in the infancy of this process. There's going to be much more hurt.
We just have a nice blanket now to cling to when things get particularly painful.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oregon State