- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday directed his staff to schedule a meeting with District officials to discuss potential changes to the agreement governing the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington. But Selig cautioned strongly he is not inclined to alter the deal.

“We’re going to proceed with the agreement we have,” Selig said after addressing the annual meeting of the Greater Washington Board of Trade at the Hilton Washington. “We need to proceed with what we have. As far as I’m concerned, the deal we made is a deal, and we’re going to live up to it.”

Selig’s remarks came on the eve of a conference call he has scheduled among MLB owners to vote on the Expos’ relocation. The measure should be approved overwhelmingly even though compensation talks with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos remain incomplete.

D.C. Council chairman Linda W. Cropp sat next to Selig at yesterday’s luncheon, chatting with the commissioner extensively. She wants to renegotiate several parts of the relocation pact, and atop her wish list is greater legal protection for the District if a planned stadium near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast falls behind schedule through no fault of the city, plus shared responsibility with the Washington club for stadium cost overruns should they occur. The District currently is responsible for those costs.

Cropp also is fervently pushing to find private funding sources for the stadium, shepherding an amendment to the stadium legislation that calls for a formal six-month search for private money.

If no private funds are found, the city will proceed with plans to issue bonds for the entire stadium cost, projected by the mayor’s office at $435.2million, and at $531million by chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi.

“I agree the contract is what it is, but the at same time I believe the door is not slammed shut,” Cropp said. “There are still some possibilities to make changes.”

Cropp hopes a meeting can occur in the next 10 days involving herself, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, MLB relocation committee chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, MLB vice president John McHale Jr. and other key staff personnel. The tight timetable is driven by the council, which is set to conduct its second vote on the ballpark financing package Dec.14. Tuesday’s first vote brought 6-4 approval with three abstentions.

“Nothing is ever fully closed,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “We’re all of like mind in that we want to see the success of baseball in Washington. We’ll sit down and simply see where this goes.”

Today’s owners’ vote on the relocation is a replacement for a Nov.18 vote in Chicago that Selig postponed just hours before it was to occur. At that point, the Angelos compensation talks were incomplete, preventing a unanimous approval coveted by Selig.

More than two weeks later, those talks are still unfinished. The two sides remain unable to agree on the length of a hefty benefits package that includes guarantees to the Orioles’ annual local revenues and future resale value, as well as a majority stake in a new regional sports TV network.

MLB, however, must ratify the relocation by Monday as part of its contract with the District.

“I do like 30 votes [approval], but every so often I don’t get 30 votes,” Selig said. “The majority will rule.”

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said this week the MLB-Orioles matter could wind up in court, a scenario MLB executives desperately do not want.

Selig, making his first appearance in the District since announcing the Expos’ relocation, joked before the group of nearly 1,000 local business leaders that “a lot of people in this room thought I’d never be here.”

But the commissioner quickly won the group over, announcing a $100,000 grant to improve youth baseball fields in the District, as well as plans to have President Bush throw out the first pitch for the Nationals’ April14 home opener.

“It has obviously taken a long time, but Major League Baseball is back in Washington and we are very pleased to be back,” Selig said. “I am very much aware of Washington’s great baseball tradition.”

Selig predicted citywide debate over the merits of publicly funding the Nationals’ stadium would ebb quickly once the ballpark opens.

In other Nationals business, club president Tony Tavares said he and the sports commission are nearing a solution on how to have the baseball team and D.C. United coexist at RFK Stadium. The commission likely will use portable trays of sod to cover the infield during soccer games.

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