BALTIMORE -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter looked at the perfectly manicured lawn at Camden Yards from the home dugout and couldn't help himself.
"It'd be a great day for a baseball game," Showalter said on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours removed from his club's 3-1 loss to the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
Yes, the 2012 Orioles -- who exceeded expectations at every turn -- were still left with lingering thoughts of what might have been in a magical run that included the organization's first winning season, playoff berth and home playoff win in 15 years. The Orioles, greeted by a throng of fans upon arriving at Camden Yards late Friday night, were reduced on Saturday afternoon to a few lingering players among cleaned-out lockers and boxes piled high and ready to ship home.
"Now the challenge is to hold on to it and continue to get better," Showalter said. "[Friday's reception] was fabulous. It could have been 10 it could have been 1,000. You think about people taking the time, it was extremely sincere. I know it really touched our players' hearts. It was pretty emotional for everybody, when you see guys who can talk with anybody, pretty quiet coming out of the locker room. ... Those are things you reach back for in tough times next year."
"This was one of my most fun years," said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who was hired over the winter -- after nearly a decade out of professional baseball -- and made a formidable team with Showalter in putting Baltimore back on the baseball map. "When you are on something that is getting better and improving, there is a certain energy because there's a lot of people that are improving at the same time. And that's the way this team was."
The immediate reaction following Friday's loss was disappointment, as several players noted how much the defeat -- which brought an abrupt end to a storybook season -- truly stung.
"I think there's more frustration and disappointment [right now]," Orioles outfielder Chris Davis said. "But in the next few days when you sit down and reflect over what's happened the last six or seven months, we've got a lot of things to be proud of. To go from a bottom-of-the-division team to a competitive team that was playing in the postseason, we're not where we want to be, but we made a lot of strides in the right direction this year."
"There's nothing to be ashamed of," added veteran Jim Thome, who is one of several players set to enter free agency. "What was cool from my point of view was coming to Baltimore at midseason and watching the way the city kind of revived itself. I think the young players here really uplifted everything. There's a lot to be proud of. It's going to be an exciting time for years to come, coming to Baltimore."
A fan base starved for a winner finally got one in the 2012 Orioles, a sum-of-their-parts group that managed to make it to October without a true superstar or ace pitcher. Instead, they bought into Showalter's system this spring and the close-knit club believed in each other in a season that --despite not winning a ring -- was still considered a massive success.
"Yeah, who wouldn't [think it was a success]?," first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "We made it to the playoffs and nobody expected that. We pushed the Yankees to five games. Nobody expected us to beat Texas on the road [in the AL Wild Card]. Overall, it's not the final result we wanted, but we're going to regroup and get ready for another 162."
Added center fielder Adam Jones: "It would have been awesome to get an ALCS in our home court, but I think our fan base knows that we gave it our all. We beat a lot of odds, proved a lot of people wrong. The thing is, you just got to repeat it."
That will be the challenge for the organization in the offseason, as Duquette noted that the priority is establishing a winning organization that has a solid foundation as opposed to a fleeting year of success.
Both Duquette and Showalter didn't get much into specifics for an Orioles club that returns a core group of young players, but still has several personnel decisions to make this winter. Instead, much of Saturday's conversation rested on taking a few moments to step back and appreciate everything accomplished in 2012.
"We took a giant step forward this year and we re-energized the fan base," Duquette said. "Improving the number of games we improved was significant."
"I don't think you can raise the expectation any higher than we already had for ourselves," Showalter said. "It's why you get up ... the first meeting we had with each other in the spring, Dan was there and talked with the team, as I was. It wasn't about setting some expectations that were just good enough to get by. These guys held themselves to a high standard and I was proud of them."