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Castrovince: Buck, O's building relationship

CLEVELAND -- When you break it down properly, all situations in life can somehow be related to a "Seinfeld" episode.

For Buck Showalter, in his new career undertaking with the Orioles, the episode at hand is not even the one in which he appeared and played himself in 1994, mulling over assistant to the traveling secretary George Costanza's suggestion that the Yankees adopt cotton uniforms.

No, as Buck and Co. arrived at Progressive Field for a three-game series with the Indians, another episode came to mind. It was the one in which Jerry pushes his relationship with his girlfriend into "Phase Two" by proposing the two go away together for the weekend.

"It's like putting the relationship in a time compressor," Jerry proclaims. "Where we would be six months from now, we accomplish in three days."

That's kind of where Showalter and the O's find themselves, not just on this first road trip together but also in the last two months of the season. Melded midseason (actually, late-season), the acclimation process will be accelerated, and short samples will leave lasting impressions for both Buck and his ballplayers.

What happened in Showalter's first week, then, was helpful. An O's team that has dealt with ridicule and rehab all year was healthy and happy, winning seven of Showalter's first eight games at the helm.

Yet before we could decree this to be a sign of things to come, even Showalter was willing to add a dash of reality to the recipe.

"I'm not so naïve not to understand that we've got [Brian] Roberts back and [Felix] Pie's been playing every day, Matt [Wieters] is healthy again, and Luke [Scott] is out there," Showalter said. "I've got some bullets that some other situations didn't have."

Nor is Showalter ready to believe the good times that have prevailed here in the early going of his O's opportunity are going to last forever -- or even for the remainder of 2010. He knows the situation he inherited and the challenges that are inherent. This is a relatively young club in baseball's most intimidating division, and those 73 losses that piled up before Buck arrived didn't exactly happen by accident. The O's were 39 1/2 games out of first place when Showalter took over, and they haven't had a winning season since 1997.

Even the upside was on a downturn when Showalter arrived. The likes of Wieters, Adam Jones, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz -- young guys they plan to build around in Baltimore -- weren't living up to expectations.

When the 54-year-old Showalter embraced this job, he embraced the patience it's going to take to get the Orioles where they and their fans ultimately want to be.

And he's the first to admit he's not sure how far that patience will have to be pushed.

"It's all about what rate your young players are going to come at," he said. "Nobody can pick that out or put a blanket over it. Bergesen may come at a different speed than [Jake] Arrieta. Guys come out of high school into the NBA. Guys come out of college in football, and they're All-Pro. That doesn't happen in baseball. There's an apprenticeship. There's something you have to go through. There are very few examples of fast-forwarding."

But when it comes to relationship-building, Showalter and the O's are very much in fast-forward mode, by virtue of the timing of his takeover. Everybody's trying to be on their best behavior, and that's no doubt part of the reason the O's suddenly played cleaner baseball on their last homestand.

If the Orioles players have done their homework -- and you'd better believe most, if not all, of them have -- they know Showalter's reputation in this game. He has a team-building track record, sure, but he has often been accused of micromanaging and being particularly tough on his players along the way. That goes a long way toward explaining why he's never lasted more than four seasons with a club.

"Everybody has their own opinion on everybody," Jones said. "I take everybody's opinion seriously. But he's here, and he's going to manage our team through at least 2013, so we'll get the ball rolling. What he's done in this game speaks for itself. So we'll see if he can do that over here."

He's done it so far, and the word "accountability" has been thrown around by his players as a benefit to having Buck on the bench.

Showalter, however, denies his immediate impact or that an air of instant accountability has been installed.

"That's not unlike anything somebody else has tried to do," he said. "It's like, 'What came first, the chicken or the egg?' We've had a good first seven games in the W and L column, so that doesn't hurt. It's a product of work. You're always keeping the end-game in mind, but I don't know. I think everybody does it that way. It's an accountable business. Sooner or later, guys with a track record are going to revert back to that."

Showalter has his track record of results earned the hard way. The Orioles have their own recent track record, too, and it isn't pretty. Their relationship will come a long way over the course of the next two months. One week in, that relationship is strong, and we'll see where it's at when the time compressor that is these final weeks of the 2010 season runs its course.

"I know they're watching me, and I'm watching them," Showalter said. "It's part of the process. It's a real comfort level, I think, with everybody right now. But we'll see. I'm not naïve enough to think it doesn't have something to do with our first seven games."

Baltimore Orioles