Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Baseball returning to Washington


D.C. official says announcement due Wednesday

By Joseph White
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Major League Baseball will announce Wednesday that Washington will be the new home of the Montreal Expos, bringing the national pastime back to the nation's capital for the first time in 33 years, The Associated Press has learned.

A city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington has been notified by Major League Baseball of the impending announcement.

The city is planning its own news conference at a downtown location Wednesday afternoon, the official said.

"I think we'll be in a position where we can have a celebration tomorrow," Mayor Anthony Williams told WUSA-TV.

The announcement will come one day before the 33rd anniversary of the Washington Senators' final game. The Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season, which was also the last time a major league team changed cities.

Baseball has been looking for a new home for the Expos since the financially troubled team was bought by the other 29 major league owners in 2002. The Washington official said the bidding group had been told that baseball had reached an understanding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who had previously objected to having a team relocate just 40 miles from his franchise.

Las Vegas; Norfolk, Va.; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and Northern Virginia also made bids, but Washington clearly took the lead during negotiations over recent weeks, strengthened by its wealthy population base and a financial package that would build a new stadium primarily with taxpayers' money.

The negotiations have produced a 30-page document that would conditionally award the Expos to Washington, pending approval by the City Council. The document had not yet been signed as of Tuesday night, the city source told the AP.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, reached at his Milwaukee home, declined comment.

Plans call for a $440 million package that would include a new ballpark to be built along the Anacostia River about a dozen blocks south of the Capitol. The package also includes a $13 million refurbishment of RFK Stadium, where the team would play for three seasons while the new facility is being built.

Washington needed an answer from Major League Baseball this week because the ballpark legislation had to be introduced by Friday in order for it to be passed by Dec. 31, when terms expire for several pro-baseball City Council members.

The move must be approved by three-quarters of major league owners and survive legal challenges by the Expos' former limited partners.

After the announcement, the process of selling the Expos will start. A group that includes former Rangers partner Fred Malek has been seeking a Washington franchise for five years. In addition, several baseball officials have said in the past week that Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, might be trying to assemble a group.

The original Senators played in Washington from 1901-60 before moving to Minnesota to become the Twins. The expansion Senators called Washington home from 1961-71 before moving to Texas.

In the Senators' last game, on Sept. 30, 1971, they led the New York Yankees 7-5 with two outs in the ninth inning when fans seeking souvenirs went on the RFK Stadium field, which could not be cleared. The Yankees wound up winning the game in a forfeit.

The Rangers retain ownership of the name "Washington Senators," baseball spokesman Carmine Tiso said after consulting with Ethan Orlinsky, a lawyer for Major League Baseball Properties, the sport's licensing division.

Montreal's last home game is scheduled for Wednesday night against Florida. Monday's series opener drew a crowd of 3,923 to Olympic Stadium.




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