- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Virginia’s long-running effort to gain a major league baseball team, while at times rather silent, is certainly never dull.

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority last month made its biggest news in nearly a year when word broke of a potential stadium near Dulles International Airport. The site, buoyed by a less than hostile landowner and interested government officials, put the authority squarely back into the Montreal Expos relocation conversation after dreams of a Pentagon City ballpark were dashed last summer.

But just when the debate about Dulles was getting fully oiled — hinging foremost on brutal traffic around the area vs. the increased distance from Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles — another curveball has been thrown. The authority is still not convinced Pentagon City, across the Potomac River from the District and its rival bid, is impossible. Not even when landowners and officials there remain just as resolute against baseball as they were 11 months ago.

The authority has long believed an undeveloped tract near Army-Navy Drive would be ideal for a stadium, and it is quite intrigued that negotiations to put a convention center and hotel on the site have yet to produce a formal agreement.

“Everything is still on the table,” authority chairman Keith Frederick said.

Confused? So are a lot of observers, particularly when both authority executives and members of the prospective ownership group led by William Collins III said two weeks ago the Dulles/Loudoun County area represented the “economic heart of the region.” The suburb-exurb schism, however, marks the latest turn in the roller-coaster ride that is baseball in Virginia.

Consider the sad fate of Collins. The former telecommunications executive and his partners fund the vast majority of the authority’s budget, paying $1million a year to maintain preferred status as Virginia’s first choice to be a team owner.

In return, he received a brutal financial review from the authority after the company he founded, Metrocall Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection two years ago. The company since has re-emerged but without Collins. The money also has bought a stadium authority still exploring a Pentagon City stadium that some within the Collins group believe is no longer viable.

Worse yet, the refusal to commit to the Dulles site — which is, flaws and all, Virginia’s best option by far to stay in the Expos hunt — appears to be predicated in part on the possibility that Collins may not be the new Expos owner should the commonwealth land the team.

“Some of these decisions are going to involve the team owner and should involve the team owner, and we don’t know who the team owner is going to be,” said Gabe Paul Jr., authority executive director. “We’re going to seek some guidance from MLB as to their [site] preference, and we’ll also let them know what our feelings are.”

It should be noted that the prior iciness between Paul and Collins has thawed, and both firmly believe Virginia is closer than ever to succeeding in its 11-year quest for baseball.

Differing opinions about optimal stadium sites certainly are not limited to Virginia. District officials are quite divided among the four spots under consideration there: the RFK Stadium property, Benjamin Banneker Park in Southwest, New York Avenue Northeast and M Street Southeast. Last week’s aborted attempt by D.C. Council member Jack Evans to link a proposed Banneker stadium to the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative was ample evidence of that.

But just as baseball is finally on the cusp of making its decision, Virginia is still selling two vastly different ballpark concepts. When or how will clarity arrive? Only MLB commissioner Bud Selig knows for sure.

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