Dan Duquette didn't quite know how he would be received by the Orioles fan base during the team's annual FanFest event.
Duquette, the club's executive vice president, has been the focus of organizational uncertainty and fan anxiety this offseason as he has been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays team president and chief executive officer job. He hadn't been exposed to such a mass of Orioles fans until Saturday.
When he was introduced for the first panel of the day — a question-and-answer session for season-ticket holders — Duquette took the stage to a warm reception and partial standing ovation.
"I was expecting a lot of enthusiasm from the fans because I know a lot of the team is returning, but it's nice to be wanted," Duquette said with the coy smile.
After the team's first berth in the American League Championship Series since 1997, Orioles fans showed up at Baltimore Convention Center to express their support. The event drew more than 16,000 attendees, according to the Orioles, the second-highest total at FanFest — trailing only the 2013 event, which had more than 18,000 fans in attendance.
Despite opening the gates 30 minutes early for both season-ticket holders and the general public, a line snaked around the outside of the building as fans braved the cold.
This Orioles offseason has been consumed by key losses to a team that won the AL East and was four wins away from the World Series. The club lost reigning major league home run champion Nelson Cruz, lockdown left-handed reliever Andrew Miller and longest-tenured player Nick Markakis.
And up until news earlier this week that the Blue Jays' leadership would remain for 2015, it appeared that Duquette might join them on the way out of Baltimore.
Despite still not addressing his long-term future beyond the upcoming season, Duquette was quick in telling fans that he's committed to building a contending club this season.
"It's important for the Orioles fans to know that my focus — and my singular focus — is on improving the team, 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," Duquette told reporters after his Q&A session with season-ticket holders.
Still, fans realized that Duquette's uncertain future with the club was a prevailing topic this offseason. Having some sense of closure — even though the extent of true closure remains uncertain — is comforting.
"The general manager thing was a little bit of a fiasco, and I really don't know what happened there," said Dave Dignan, an Ellicott City resident. "I'm glad he's back for another year. The last three years have been so good after that long drought, so it's hard to get down on it. The last few years, we've been kind of spoiled."
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said he didn't pay much attention to the speculation about Duquette, but he added that the winning culture that now exists in the organization would overcome one executive's departure.
"We're grown men," Jones said. "We understand what we have to do. A guy makes a business move for him and his family, it's for him. We're going to come together no matter who is at the helm. We have something already installed in us that we continue to use. If he's still with us, great. If he goes and pursues a greater job, I'll never question him."
Duquette initially took the stage for the Q&A with season-ticket holders alongside manager Buck Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson. When the subject came up of success breeding the idea that other teams want to steal your people, Anderson and Showalter both jokingly moved their chairs away from Duquette.
"I think it's inevitable as an organization, as you hopefully get better, your people are going to be coveted more, and that's kind of where I left it," Showalter said later. "That's the same reason why we lost Nelson, lost Andrew and lost Nick. The only difference was that Dan is under contract."
But Anderson said there's no doubt that Duquette was always focused on the Orioles and will remain committed to building a contending club.
"I didn't think for one minute that Dan would be incapable of doing the job he is supposed to do here or be bitter or anything like that," Anderson said. "The job that Dan was offered was really unusual in baseball. They don't really exist. There are three or four teams. It's a huge job and I can see why the idea of that was really appealing to him. It's a rare job and a very big job.
"So I can see why he was enticed by that, but there's a sense of loyalty you have in this city particularly, more than most cities. I'm hopeful that Dan has that. I think that he does, but as far as that preventing him from doing his job, I wouldn't think so."
Even though Duquette still really didn't address his future beyond 2015 — he is signed through 2018 — he acknowledged the merits of his current job in Baltimore.
"This is a team that has steadily improved and you can see from the enthusiasm of our fans, they like our players and they've been very supportive of the team each of the last couple years. And they're going to continue to support the team, so that's a good situation to be in," Duquette said. "Having the opportunity to return your pitching staff and a lot of the core players to take another shot at it, that's the really attractive part of it."
Otherwise, this year's FanFest event was the typical feel-good event.
With less than three weeks before the beginning of spring training, fans had their greatest opportunity to interact with their favorite players, get autographs from past and present Orioles and participate in Q&A forums. Children could participate in clinics on a makeshift baseball field and ask questions to Orioles players in a news conference format.
First baseman Chris Davis, who addressed his 25-game suspension for a failed drug test from Adderall use, made his first expansive comments about his suspension to reporters, then took questions from kids along with shortstop J.J. Hardy in the children's news conference.
"How do you celebrate after games?" one child asked. "High fives," Davis and Hardy answered in unison.
"I like Batman. Do you like Batman?" was another query. Both responded with a quick "Yup."
"I'm getting ready to play T-ball. Do you play T-ball?"
"Yes, sometimes I wish I was still playing T-ball," Davis joked.
Then Connor Hafecz, 11, asked Davis and Hardy whether they learn from their mistakes, a loaded question considering Davis' lingering suspension, which will keep him out Opening Day.
"I hope so," Davis said. "That's the goal every year."
Connor, a Perry Hall resident who was attending the event with his father, Mike, said he was strictly talking about baseball, but it was still a question that drew the attention of the entire room.
"All my coaches when I play, they tell me to learn from my mistakes," Connor said. "I was trying see if they want to learn from their mistakes or if they keep making the same mistakes."
And for Davis and the Orioles, a fresh start awaits after the conclusion of another FanFest.