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After unusual offseason, Orioles fans receive some clarity at FanFest

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette addressed fans at FanFest about him looking to take a job with the Toronto Blue Jays. (Kevin Richardson)

In any normal Orioles offseason, FanFest provides an opportunity for thousands of baseball-hungry fans to come in from the cold and spend a fun day getting an up-close and personal preview of the latest edition of the team.

Of course, this has been anything but a typical offseason, so those fans got something extra when they showed up to collect autographs and rub elbows with many of their favorite players past and present.

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Some long-awaited clarity.

For the past two months, the front office has been in an apparent state of suspended animation while the Toronto Blue Jays attempted to hire away executive vice president Dan Duquette. For longer than that, power-hitting first baseman Chris Davis has remained largely silent about the circumstances surrounding the Adderall suspension that cost him a chance to play in the postseason and will keep him out of the Opening Day lineup.

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So, it was fair to assume that many of the announced 16,000-plus fans who showed up at Baltimore Convention Center came looking for answers to the questions that cast a shadow over the winter and threatened to alter the trajectory of the franchise.

Duquette, who had remained silent on the subject of his job status until the Blue Jays recently pulled out of compensation negotiations and announced that current team president Paul Beeston would remain in place for the 2015 season, tried his best to reassure fans that his commitment to the Orioles has remained unchanged.

"It's important for the Orioles fans to know that my focus — and my singular focus — is on improving the team," Duquette said, "and we do that day by day, trade by trade, addition by addition, and we did that this year in the offseason like we've done it in the past."

I'm still wondering why Duquette felt that he couldn't articulate that publicly during the eight weeks of on-again, off-again media speculation about his future, if only to counter the appearance that the front office was in limbo while some of the Orioles' division rivals were making major offseason upgrades.

In reality, that probably wasn't the case. Duquette is well-known for his deliberate and conservative approach to offseason team-building and the club was in much the same position at this time last year.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said again Saturday that the front office has been operating normally and the team would have remained on course even if Duquette had gotten permission from majority partner Peter G. Angelos to accept the big promotion from the Blue Jays.

"I always felt like we had clarity," he said. "The things that we put in place, not only Dan but a lot of people, whether it be a scouting director, farm director, previous people, it can run itself for awhile. All along [it was about] what was best for the organization and what's best for Dan and our fans."

During two Q&A sessions with the fans, Duquette defended the club's minimalist approach to outside improvement, pointing to the healthy return of catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado as the keys to maintaining organizational momentum after last year's deep playoff run.

Davis also fits into that conversation after a very disappointing season that featured a debilitating oblique injury in May and his suspension in early September. He took advantage of the platforms provided at FanFest to explain why he violated baseball's amphetamine policy and why he feels he's ready to bounce back from his highly disappointing offensive performance.

"Like I said before, it was a moment of weakness," Davis said. "Obviously, I wasn't thinking about the big picture. It was a mistake that I wish I could go back and undo, but that being said, I served my suspension and have one game left and going forward we have the [therapeutic-use exemption] this year, I think it'll be all right. It's something that's been addressed in the past, but obviously I didn't take the right steps."

Davis acknowledged that it was difficult to be on the outside looking in during the postseason, but he said he did what he could to make things right with his teammates.

"I think all that was addressed towards the end of the season last year, and I'm going to move forward," he said.

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Moving forward seemed to be the order of the day. Duquette got nice ovations when he took the stage for his two Q&A sessions and the fans also greeted Davis warmly. Everyone is ready to start over.

That much is crystal clear.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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