After more than 30 years and thousands of baseball games, Dan Duquette still remembers the first time he stepped into Fenway Park. And like many children whose eyes widened when first gazing at the green expanse of the outfield, and the flawless geometry of the freshly chalked base lines, Duquette would never look at baseball the same way again.
Growing up in western Massachusetts, he spent his childhood and most of his adult life cheering for the Boston Red Sox. But now he is able to view the splendor of Fenway Park on a daily basis - with a slightly better seat. As general manager of the Red Sox, Duquette now trades actual players, rather than just their baseball cards, and no longer discusses last night's game in homeroom, but in the front office.
But for Duquette, running the operations of the Red Sox is more than living out a boyhood fantasy; it's almost a sacred responsibility. After all, in Boston, fans follow their home team with a zealous devotion and consider the Red Sox an extension of their family and friends.
According to Duquette, home games attract almost every type of New Englander.
"Boston is a baseball town centered around a baseball team. Every day when you open Fenway Park it's akin to having a town meeting. Everybody's here," says Duquette. "Some days the mayor may be here, or the governor. And we have a great following of priests and nuns throughout New England."
Duquette began his career as an administrative assistant in scouting and player development for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1980. In 1986 and '87 he was promoted to scouting director. From there he assumed similar duties with the Montreal Expos, serving as the team's vice president and general manager beginning in 1991. In 1995, an offer from the Red Sox brought him home.
For Duquette, assembling a winner for New England has special significance. "Many of those working for the Red Sox organization are New Englanders, and we try to operate the ball club for that community. It's a great motivator knowing there's great passion behind the team."
Although he spends much of his time pondering roster moves and talking to scouts and coaches, Duquette is in constant contact with fans both at the ballpark and via e-mail.
The biggest surprise for Duquette in his present job was the level of scrutiny, from fans and the media, directed at the GM. "The intensity is very acute," he says.
Few loyal fans, including his closest friends and family, hesitate to let him know what's on their minds - be it praise or criticism. "My wife helped her grandmother move in to her new home last season," Duquette begins in illustrating his point. "When she asked her if everything was all right, she said, 'Tell Dan to get rid of that closer [game-finishing relief pitcher]. I didn't like him last year and I certainly don't like what he's doing this year.' "
Such criticism from Red Sox faithful may be fed by the team's history of frustration. The Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918, and Duquette is aware that patience is wearing thin. "We get hundreds of letters from people who have followed this club for generations. They say, 'Look, I've followed this team since the '20s and I'd like to see a World Series championship. But hurry up, I'm running out of time.' "
What keeps fans coming? Fenway Park itself. "Playing in Fenway gives us a great edge," Duquette says. "As a fan, you're so close to the field you can almost reach out and touch the players."
This year has been rife with controversy, with the loss of pitching ace Roger Clemens after he declined a contract extension, the domestic problems of outfielder Wilfredo Cordero, and last week's broadside by slugger Mo Vaughn, who said he was disgusted with the front office and wants out. On the bright side, the team has a new leader in sensational rookie shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
As the person responsible for hiring, firing, and player evaluations, Duquette knows he needs to find more keepers like Garciaparra. But even with the Red Sox mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Duquette's baseball romance is unmitigated. "The beauty of baseball," he says, "is that you can enjoy the game once it starts and revel in the achievements of players, and the fun of the ballpark."