The Baltimore Orioles are back. The team, principal owner Peter Angelos and his investor group come away from the 2014 season smelling like a rose, having returned the franchise to prominence.
Team leadership has answered the age-old question "What have you done for me lately?" by helping to make the team more popular than they have ever been.
The three-year period from 2012-2014 has served an important purpose, as it has served as a sort of reset button for the organization, allowing the entire fan base to take a deep breath and forget what it was that caused so much angst and negativity in the past.
The truth is this: The Orioles have done a lot more right than wrong during the past few seasons. They assembled a management dream team and signed them to long-term deals. Dan Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, and manager Buck Showalter are under contract through 2018.
They have the club's best and most popular player, center fielder Adam Jones, locked up for four more years. They went out this past offseason and signed two significant free-agent players in Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez. While Jimenez had a lousy first season in Orioles livery, the opening of the purse strings signaled to a wary fan base that ownership was in it to win it. And they just inked shortstop J.J. Hardy for three more years.
They have enough young players under team under control that they may be competitive for the next few years without driving payroll to the absurd levels for a medium-market franchise.
Importantly, with the statues of the six Hall of Fame players and assigning both Bill Stetka and Steve Freemen to a new alumni department, the Birds have found a way to relocate and celebrate their glorious past.
The Angelos family has taken many a punch. But you know what? They have taken them, learned a little something in the process, gotten back up and dusted themselves off to once again go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the sport.
This offseason will be hugely important for the team to build upon what they have done. It will serve as a time to make a couple key moves on the field and off. With the fan base as engaged as it is, all the key associations with the team -- ticket buyers, souvenir purchasers, advertisers, rights-fee holders -- will trend up. It's in that opportunity the organization must deliver with consistency and constancy.
This is not the time for the O's to backslide for two or three seasons, and then run the risk that the fans turn away -- with naysayers cropping up out of the woodwork to again say, "I knew they couldn't really turn this team around."
With Duquette and Showalter, two of the sharpest guys in any baseball room, at the helm, that shouldn't happen. In the case of Duquette, that allows him a lot of latitude in building his staff of scouts and development people to again make the Orioles one of the teams that the entire industry will laud and look up to.
Let's focus on the hiring of Duquette. It wasn't so long ago -- the fall of 2011 -- when Angelos was unable to convince Andy MacPhail to stay on as general manager. The club then went on a telling search for a general manager who could mesh with Angelos.
If you go back and read the articles written during the month of October 2011, the club apparently had about a dozen names listed as possible general managers.
The guy they were supposedly closest to offering the job to was Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava. Remembering how the tea leaves fell back then, LaCava made demands regarding organizational hiring and was quickly bypassed.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Duquette surfaced to interview with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The interview with the Angels was seen more as a favor from a former Duquette employee, Bill Stoneman. Stoneman, a former big league pitcher, worked for Duquette in Montreal after his playing days were finished. Stoneman is a senior advisor for Arte Moreno's Angel team. The interview was a moot point anyway, as Jerry Dipoto ended up as the Angels general manager.
The Orioles, meanwhile, went down a surprising road in which they took the almost unprecedented step of hiring someone who had been away from running a big league front office for 10 long years.
There must have been times during those 10 years out of the game that Duquette grew envious of the acclaim received by the young brainiacs such as Theo Epstein and Billy Beane, to name two, who took over the sport.
But today, as the O's are looked upon as almost a model of how to do things right, the unlikely troika of Angelos, Duquette and Showalter have proved many of the pundits wrong. They have not only survived together. They have thrived together.