Leo Mazzone, the Orioles' new pitching coach, strode to the podium yesterday in a light suit, confidence and sense of purpose evident in his stride. Introduced by his best friend, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, Mazzone wasted little time in exhibiting the boldness that is part of the package of one of the league's most celebrated pitching coaches.
"They say that there is a time and place for everything, and at this point in my career, after 14 consecutive division titles and being in the postseason every [chance] since 1991 [with the Atlanta Braves], the time is now, the place is now," Mazzone said. "It's been a long time since I have not been in the postseason after a regular baseball season ended, and I don't expect to start now."
Such a brash proclamation is a welcome change for the Orioles, an organization that has suffered through eight straight losing seasons and is coming off one of the most tumultuous years in club history.
At a news conference yesterday, the organization took another step toward distancing itself from this season, introducing two of its most recent hires - Mazzone and former New York Mets executive Jim Duquette as vice president - and officially naming former Tampa Bay Devil Rays executive Scott Proefrock as director of baseball administration, replacing Ed Kenney.
"I am happy with the way things have progressed, and some real positives have gone on in getting the front office restructured," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan, who has begun meeting with Duquette and Proefrock to discuss dividing responsibilities.
Added Perlozzo: "I don't think [the offseason] could have gone any better than it's gone. Nobody said one thing [yesterday] about last year. It's over. We really don't want to talk about it. We are excited about moving on, and we got some new people and we're going to have more new people. We can't wait."
Perlozzo posed for several rounds of pictures with Mazzone, his longtime friend from their days growing up in Western Maryland. Mazzone, who had been in the Braves organization since 1979, reaffirmed that the reason he left Atlanta, eschewing interest from the New York Yankees, and signed a three-year deal - believed to be worth approximately $500,000 a season - with the Orioles was because of Perlozzo.
"We've talked about it, we've dreamed about it," Mazzone said. "I think you all know the relationship I have with Bobby Cox ... but it's time to move."
Said Perlozzo: "Most baseball people assumed the Yankees had him, but I didn't flinch on that. I kind of chuckled when I hear people say that we stole him. I didn't think he was going anywhere but with me."
Duquette read a newspaper article about the Yankees' interest in Mazzone while he was on the train on his way to interviewing with the Orioles. In 14 seasons with the Mets, Duquette said he has gotten accustomed to the way the Yankees always "spend money and get the guy that they want," so he figured it was a done deal. Then, Flanagan told him about Perlozzo and Mazzone's friendship.
"He's been a nemesis - I feel like to me personally - for 14 of my 15 years as an executive," Duquette said. "Now, to have him on my side and the Orioles' side, it's exciting."
Duquette also said that it is a sign the Orioles are set on improving and putting the 2005 season behind them.
"To get better, having lived that with the Mets, you can't dwell on the past. You have to be able ... to move forward," he said. "With Sam, with me, Scott Proefrock and Leo, there is that freshness and newness, kind of new ideas and new thoughts. I think it is symbolically kind of turning the page and starting anew."
Duquette and Proefrock, who had spent the past nine seasons as the assistant to former Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar, said it's not going to be easy.
"I don't want to make it sound like there's a blank check in front of you, but there are no excuses if we don't get the job done with the resources that you have," Proefrock said. "That's the best feeling about the whole situation. There's no reason we can't get the job done in the division that we are in. It's not going to be easy, but there is a lot here to work with."