CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a human moment that wasn't revealed in the box score of the Orioles' 5-3 road split-squad loss to the Phillies in Clearwater -- a father finally getting to coach his son in a sport to which they have both dedicated their careers.
Orioles bench coach John Russell, who managed the team’s road split-squad team with manager Buck Showalter back in Sarasota on Saturday afternoon, had never had the opportunity to coach his son, Steel, before Sunday's game.
Steel Russell, a left-handed hitting catcher whom the Orioles drafted in the 32nd round last season out of Midland Junior College in Texas, jumped at the chance to get on the team’s travel roster to Clearwater for Sunday's game.
Before the game, John Russell said he’d try to get Steel into the game after designated hitter Nolan Reimold received three at-bats, but made no promises.
John Russell, a former big league player, has spent most of the past 14 seasons as a coach and manager, most notably as the Pirates' skipper from 2008-2010. In a lot of ways, he's Showalter's right-hand man, sticking to the manager's side in the dugout.
Steel entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter for Reimold and quickly popped up to short, but he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and singled to right on the first pitch from minor leaguer Ryan O’Sullivan. He later scored on L.J. Hoes’ two-out double that cut the Phillies' lead to 5-3.
For a player who spent most of last season playing rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, it was a moment to remember. For his father, it was a gratifying moment that was a long time coming.
Asked about seeing his son get a base hit after the game, the usually plain-faced Russell allowed himself to smile.
“It was great,” John Russell said. “He smoked the first ball. I know he's on cloud nine. I'm a very proud father."