Buck Showalter speaks to reporters at Camden Yards on Saturday… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Most of the Orioles had already cleaned out their lockers at Camden Yards by Saturday afternoon, when just a few stragglers were tossing their possessions into cardboard boxes to mark the symbolic end to baseball in Baltimore this season.
Outside, a few dozen fans still lingered for one final sight of their favorite players. Executive vice president Dan Duquette stopped by to sign autographs.
The Orioles had a remarkable turnaround in 2012 — going from 93 losses in 2011 to 93 wins in the regular season, then falling just one win short of playing for the American League title — but the finality had hit manager Buck Showalter. This team — as is existed on the field this season — was forever done.
Changes will be made in the offseason. It's the nature of the game.
"That's what's so sad," Showalter said about his final talks with individual players. "You see them and they know it. It gets emotional. You got through that many things together and you've got to summon some real strong will to get through some of those conversations. This game has a way. Everyone crosses paths, but it's tough. Coming in here, I wasn't in a hurry. You try to give every guy the time they deserve, but if you did that it'd be three hours to every guy."
If their greatest accomplishment this season was giving the long suffering baseball fans of Baltimore something to cheer about after 14 straight losing seasons, their next step is not only sustaining it, but competing for a championship. Long a cellar-dweller, the Orioles hope to become an annual contender.
Meeting with reporters on Saturday, a day after the Orioles' season-ending 3-1 loss to the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, Duquette talked about mirroring this Orioles rebirth after the one his mentor, Harry Dalton, used to build the original Orioles powers of the mid-60 to early '70s.
"We took a giant step forward this year, and we re-energized the fan base, improving the number of games we won was significant," Duquettte said. "Buck had a good foundation of pieces here, and we've continued to build on that so we can have a winning organization. Not just a good team for this year but a foundation on which we can build on so we can have a good team year in and year out.
"That's really the Oriole way," Duquette added. "It's the same way that they built the great Oriole teams, and we are doing the same thing now. So that we have a core group of players on this ballclub and we can have them together for a few years and we can take another run at the championship."
On Friday night, Managing partner Peter Angelos gave both Duquette and Showalter strong endorsements, even opening the door on an extension for Showalter.
"I have a contract for next year," said Showalter, 56, who is scheduled to have partial knee replacement surgery on his right knee this week. "We've got people in our country and in our city, they don't know what's going on tomorrow. The organization committed to me long before that had to. They had a great deal of faith in me. … I've fallen in love with this city. We'll see what happens. That would be an honor. You take every job with the idea that it's going to be your last."
The Orioles' coaching staff should remain nearly the same.
In the end, the Orioles didn't have enough clutch bats or a shutdown ace. But Duquette said that if the Orioles are to improve, it will be by building around cornerstone players like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. He pointed to the signing of left-hander Wei-Yin Chen from Japan and the August trade for left-hander Joe Saunders as moves that they will continue to make to improve the club.
As for a big-ticker free-agent acquisition?
"I've said all along the way to build a good ballclub is from the ground up," Duquette said. "lt's not from the top down. Having said that, we signed a couple free agents last year that did a good job. ... So, we are always looking for opportunity, but I'm going to tell you this: The core players are going to come from our minor league system. The really good ballplayers. And we've got a couple of them on the horizon that can help our pitching staff."
By that he's referring to top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Bundy made his major league debut in September, and Gausman — the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft — is on the fast track to Baltimore.
The Orioles must decide whether to pick up Mark Reynolds' $11 million option for 2013. Reynolds was streaky at the plate, as expected — his power surge in the final two months of the season helped carry the Orioles through some tough spots — and he developed into a plus defender at first.
They overcame injuries to key players like Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold with reclamation projects like Nate McLouth. But now McLouth, who resuscitated his career here and was the team's best hitter in the postseason, could get rewarded handsomely on the free agent market.
In the moments after the Orioles' season ending loss, both Reynolds and McLouth said they want to stay, but can they?
Duquette promises to make the moves that will keep the Orioles a contender.
"My philosophy is, if you have a good team, you get to the postseason and you knock on the door and one of the times you're going to get through," he said. "This year we knocked on the door, we didn't get quite get through, but we took a big step forward."