Dan Duquette wore an orange tie that manager Buck Showalter handed him shortly before today’s press conference. He further tried to stamp out the perception that he’s an outsider by relaying a story about how as a kid he’d pretend to be Brooks Robinson while playing Wiffle Ball with his brother in a lot behind his backyard. The teams would be divided between the ‘66 Orioles and ‘67 Red Sox. One of his childhood friends would play first base like Boog Powell.
His father once told him that Mark Belanger was the best shortstop he’d ever seen, and Duquette used to deliver newspapers to The Blade’s house. The first major league player he met as an 8-year old was Robinson.
Former Orioles general manager Harry Dalton is one of Duquette’s mentors. Duquette became close to former Orioles Pat Dobson, Andy Etchebarren and Larry Haney, among others, while working in scouting and player development with the Brewers.
Duquette also makes Earl Weaver’s book on strategy “required reading” for his employees.
You would think he’s been a part of this organization for longer than one day.
“I’m here to build a contending team that everyone can be proud of,” he said.
Duquette spoke more than once about the need to be aggressive in scouting, especially in the international market, and how the only way to compete with the big spenders at the top of the AL East is to “work smarter and work harder.”
“It can be done,” he said.
Duquette, like predecessor Andy MacPhail, will try to build a winner through pitching. He also wants to place the same emphasis on fundamentals “as the great Orioles teams of the ’60s and ’70s.”
As for the disadvantages that come from being away from the game for so long, Duquette said he has baseball in his DNA, and that he kept his skills sharp and maintained his contacts throughout baseball.
“My focus is going to be sharper and better from my time away from the game,” he said.
Duquette praised the Orioles’ strength up the middle with catcher Matt Wieters, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones. He also said that he’s impressed with the “caliber” of Showalter and believes they’ll make a dynamic team.
Duquette didn’t make it sound as though the Orioles will be major players in free agency, at least when it comes to the big-ticket items.
“Orioles fans know our best players are going to have to come up through our farm system,” he said.
Duquette stressed that the Orioles need to upgrade and improve their pitching depth in the minors, and he confirmed that they’ll attempt to sign a few minor league free agents who can compete for spots on the major league roster.
Duquette met with Showalter last night to evaluate players on the 25-man roster. He’s compiling a list of candidates for scouting director and minor league pitching coordinator. He’ll look internally first before deciding whether to make outside hires.
All the vacancies should be filled by the time that the Winter Meetings start on Dec. 5.
Duquette and assistant Matt Klentak will attend next week’s general manager’s meetings in Milwaukee.
Asked how he’s changed from his days in Boston, Duquette smiled and said he’ll be “kinder and friendlier.”
Also, Showalter confirmed that John Russell will return as bench coach next season. The other three holdovers also will return.
I’ll pass along more quotes from Duquette and Showalter later today.