- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

The District has stepped up its lobbying efforts to convince Major League Baseball to come to town.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams spoke with commissioner Bud Selig last month to press the District's case to get a team relocated to the city.

John Richardson, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, confirmed that Williams spoke by telephone with Selig on May 25, and that the mayor, who initiated the call to Selig, plans on staying in touch with the commissioner.

"It was a very good talk," Richardson said. "They agreed to stay in touch and meet whenever they could. I know the mayor is looking forward to that."

A meeting between Selig and Williams could come at next month's All-Star Game in Atlanta, D.C. government sources said.

"I think the mayor talking to the commissioner is important, and that the commissioner talking to the mayor is even more important," Richardson said. "I take it as a hopeful sign, and the fact that they agreed to stay in touch is also a healthy sign."

Williams, however, is playing catch-up to the District's rival for baseball here. Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III has met with Selig several times to push Northern Virginia's efforts.

"The governor has indicated that we are supportive of major league baseball in Northern Virginia, and he has expressed that position to the commissioner," said Ron Tillet, state secretary of finance.

Discussions about bringing baseball back to the Washington area have heated up with the uncertainty of the future of the Montreal Expos and possibly other franchises, such as the Minnesota Twins and the Florida Marlins.

No baseball team has moved since the expansion Washington Senators shifted to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season. But Selig told The Washington Times recently that he would allow a franchise to move if it could prove that staying put would be a financial hardship.

"There's no question that if a club can't make it and demonstrates that it's tried to do everything it can, no question it has to move," Selig told The Times.

If a franchise should become available, two local groups are ready to bid for the team one seeking to put the team in the District and the other in Northern Virginia.

The D.C. group, which was formed last year, is headed by Washington financier Fred Malek, a former minority owner in the Texas Rangers. The Northern Virginia group, Virginia Baseball, headed by telecommunications executive William Collins, has been trying for five years to bring a franchise to the area.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that neither group is willing to merge with the other, a factor that could complicate the drive to land a team.

Any team coming here would have to play in RFK Stadium for at least two years until a ballpark is built. D.C. officials have targeted a site east of Mount Vernon Square, with a recommendation for a financing plan that includes personal seat licenses and revenue from taxes generated by the ballpark and tax incentives.

No site has been identified in Northern Virginia, but the state has created a stadium authority and has a financing plan that would consist of funding two-thirds of the ballpark through state bonds and one-third by the Collins group.

Washington and Northern Virginia, along with Charlotte, N.C., have been the most frequently mentioned sites for relocation.

The Times also reported recently that Major League Baseball is studying the issue of the how the Baltimore Orioles would be affected if a baseball franchise was located in the Washington area. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has vehemently opposed any such plans and is expected to oppose any Washington area franchise in court.

Peggy Armstrong, Williams' spokeswoman, deferred comment on the effort to the Sports Commission.

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