Dan Duquette didn't have to think long when he was asked if the Baltmore Orioles making the American League playoffs as a wild card team was a surprise.
"We made the most of our opportunity," he said.
As is the Dalton native, who is in his first season as the Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations with the Orioles. Fired in 2002 by the current Red Sox ownership, Duquette was out of Major League Baseball until the Orioles hired him on Nov. 8, 2011.
"I was just glad to be back and I appreciate the opportunity from the Angelos family to build the major league team," Duquette said in a phone interview from St. Petersburg, where the Orioles were finishing up the regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The Baltimore fans can now be proud of their team," Duquette said. "There's a new Oriole way that includes winning games. The fans have seen that we have a young ballclub and we should be able to sustain our winning ways."
Duquette's Orioles finished 93-69 and two games behind the AL East Division champion New York Yankees. It was Baltimore's first season over .500 since they won the East with a 98-64 record in 1997.
"I thought it was real important to break the streak of losing seasons," said Duquette. "Along the way, we got a few breaks here and there and made the playoffs."
The success of the Orioles translated into success at the gate. The Birds drew 2,102,240 to Camden Yards.
"I thought we had a pretty good core last fall and if we could add to our pitching staff, we could have a real competitive team," Duquette said. "Some of the pitchers we brought in did well ... we had a good bullpen. We got a bonus when a pitcher like Miguel Gonzalez showed up."
When owner Peter Angelos hired Duquette to replace Andy MacPhail in Baltimore, much of the discussion concerned Duquette's time away from a big league front office.
Between Boston and Baltimore, Duquette developed his Sports Academy in Hinsdale, ran the Pittsfield Dukes of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, and had been involved in the establishment of the Israel Baseball League, which later disbanded.
Duquette's success is the exact opposite of the situation with Bobby Valentine in Boston. Valentine had been out of a big league dugout since 2002, the same amount of time Duquette had not been in a big league front office. Unlike Duquette, Valentine's season turned out to be one of the worst in 50 years for the Red Sox and Valentine was fired on Thursday.
Duquette said his first year has been "a lot of fun." A player development guy at heart, Duquette said it's fun to have minor league teams close to Baltimore, and it's been exciting to have a lot of good, young players who came up this year or who are on the cusp of coming up to Camden Yards.
The relationship between Duquette and field manager Buck Showalter has also been something the Dalton native cites as part of the Orioles' success.
The two of them go back to when Showalter worked in the New York Yankees minor league system and Duquette was the Director of Player Development for the Montreal Expos.
"He's a real professional. He's a first-rate Major League manager," said Duquette. "We share the fame fundamental beliefs in how to run a top-quality Major League team."
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