BOSTON - Another version of Family Ties is airing in the Orioles organization today.
Earlier this afternoon, they selected Ryan Ripken, the son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken in the 20th round of the First-Year Player Draft. And a few minutes ago, they used their 32nd-round pick on Midland (Tx.) College catcher William “Steel” Russell, the son of bench coach John Russell
Steel Russell has been with the team for a few days and sat in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park when the Orioles contacted him. Steel held up his cell phone as a signal to his father that he had just been drafted.
“It’s great,” said John Russell, a former catcher who was the 13th overall pick by the Phillies in the 1982 draft. “He worked real hard this year and had a lot of accomplishments. Some of our scouts saw him play and were very pleased. He came up and did a workout and they really liked what they saw. I’m very proud. For my son to be drafted, and especially by the team that I’m with right now, is something I’ll cherish forever. Just to see the look on his face, it’s something I’ll never forget.
“Now it’s up to him and he’s very excited about going out and playing and getting after it. He’s got a lot of ability and some good upside as a left-handed hitting catcher.
“Not only is catching a premium nowadays, but to be a left-handed hitter, as well, that’s one of the reasons they were very interested in him. We were fortunate that the Orioles were really the only team that got a peek at him, so it was good that he didn’t go a little higher to somebody else. I’m happy that he’s with us. He’s got the tools and the ability, and left-handed hitting catchers are a good commodity to have in the organization.”
Russell tried to steady his nerves as the draft approached.
“I was very nervous, but I couldn’t let him know that, so I tried to play it real cool,” he said. “Try to be strong for him. I told him things were going to work out just fine. It was a relief to see his face when he was over on the sofa and he saw his name come up. I know he’s very excited. It’s going to be fun.
“He found out before I did. Then Buck (Showalter) came out and said, ‘Congratulations,’ so it’s very exciting. It really is.”
Steel, who transferred to Midland College from Ohio State University, said it’s been “a stressful couple days, but definitely worth the stress, definitely worth staring at my phone for the past 72 hours.
“It’s really cool to be able to share this with my dad and be part of his organization. It’s something you don’t think about as a kid, but as you get older you realize it might be a possibility down the road. To actually have that happen is pretty amazing. I’m just excited to start playing. I’m looking forward to it.
“My dad actually wanted me to come in for the draft so when it did happen, if it did happen, I could share with him and also he could kind of tell me where do I go now, what happens now. So I came here and hung out here the last few days. My mom was also here. She flew in. My stepmom was here, my girlfriend was here, so I got to share it with all these people, which is the best thing in the world to be able to share the moment with the people I love. I’m just really excited and ready to go.”
It had to be a surreal moment for him, to have it all unfold a few feet away from his father and surrounded by major league players.
“Yeah, how many kids even get to get drafted get that opportunity to be in that clubhouse, in the major league clubhouse of the team they get drafted by?” he said. “I can’t imagine anything like that ever happening to most people, but I’m fortunate enough for my dad to be who he is that I was able to share it with him in the clubhouse. Buck came out and congratulated me, which is, like I said, not many kids that get drafted have the manager of the big league club come out and say ‘Congratulations.’ It’s something I’ll never forget, being able to do that here.
“This moment I can’t even really express how I feel right now. I don’t think it’s totally kicked in right now. I’m just really excited to be able to share it here and experience it here in this clubhouse with all these big leaguers, and thinking I have a shot. It’s pretty surreal.
So how long before Steel is bumping Matt Wieters to first base?
The mere suggestion of it made him laugh.
“As my little brother told me, he said, ‘Hey, if you get drafted by the Orioles, when you get to the big leagues you’ll be Wieters’ backup,” Steel said. “I’m just going to go out and play and see what happens from there.”
He’s gotten the proper instruction from his father, who knows a thing or two about catching.
“He’s been outstanding,” Steel said. “I’ve got a very good and very experienced coach to go to in my dad. We’ve talked a lot over the last 20 years about catching. Even in Little League, he’d say, ‘OK, we’re going to try this and this and this.’ I’d tell him what I needed help on and he was always quick to help. A very good coach, easy to listen to. Didn’t chew me out, just guided me along. Between him and my mom and my stepdad and my stepmother and my family, I’ve had so much support that I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for them. I love them so much. They’ve done so much for me.
“I’m glad that it’s come to fruition today.”
Britton update: The Orioles just announced that they have reinstated left-hander Zach Britton from the 60-day disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A Norfolk. To make room for Britton on the 40-man roster, right-hander Stu Pomeranz (oblique) was transferred to the 60-day DL.
Britton has yet to pitch for the Orioles this season after being placed on the 15-day DL on March 26 with a left shoulder impingement. In three rehab starts with Double-A Bowie (two games) and Norfolk, he went 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA, striking out 13 and walking five in 18 innings.