- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The District stands as the front-runner in the race for the Montreal Expos, according to comments attributed to Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago White Sox owner and chairman of Major League Baseball’s relocation committee.

Reinsdorf told John Alevizos, a New England developer who unsuccessfully tried to move the Expos to central Connecticut, on Monday that baseball is deciding between the District, Las Vegas and Monterrey, Mexico, and that Washington is the most likely choice.

“Those are the three cities, and [Reinsdorf] said they were thinking most about D.C.,” Alevizos said. “I had heard rumors to that effect, asked Jerry if they were true, and he said they were. It makes sense. If they’re not going to come to Connecticut, they should go to Washington.”

Reinsdorf declined to comment yesterday. However, Scott Reifert, White Sox spokesman, said Reinsdorf refutes Alevizos’ claims.

“What Mr. Reinsdorf did say to [Alevizos] was that Washington was among the cities still under consideration,” Reifert said. “He took issue with the characterization that the committee was leaning toward Washington.”

Alevizos’ account of his conversation with Reinsdorf was first reported yesterday in two Connecticut newspapers. In an interview with The Washington Times, Alevizos said Reinsdorf came away impressed from a meeting last Thursday in the District with Mayor Anthony Williams and several city officials.

“Jerry said that after the meeting with the mayor and several folks from the city council there, he was confident about getting through [public] funding for a stadium,” Alevizos said.

The District is proposing to fund fully a new stadium on the grounds of RFK Stadium. Three downtown sites also remain possibilities, though those each would require some private capital in the form of annual lease payments from the team owner.

MLB intends to select the Expos’ new home by midsummer, but several industry sources say a city may not be decided upon until late this summer or the fall.

Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, declined to comment on the Alevizos-Reinsdorf conversation, but said “we were as impressed with baseball’s professionalism and sincerity [during last week’s meeting] as we believe they were with our proposal.”

If Reinsdorf’s comments are true, that would effectively eliminate Northern Virginia after an 11-year pursuit of baseball that almost saw the move of the Houston Astros in 1995 to the commonwealth.

Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, also disputed Alevizos’ account. The authority met last night to continue development of its ballpark proposal.

“Nobody has told me we’re out of the mix,” Paul said. “Baseball has not given us any notification like that. If that’s the case, it’s news to me.”

Where the authority intends to put a stadium, however, remains uncertain. All previously disclosed site options have run into resistance, and Paul refused to name new sites under consideration.

Reinsdorf’s bullishness toward the District, funneled through Alevizos, follows praise generated immediately following last week’s meeting between the District and the relocation committee. One of the primary messages from that session — MLB’s assertion that the Baltimore Orioles should not be an obstacle to Washington getting a team — was directly challenged by Alevizos.

“I told Jerry that if they go to Washington, they’re in for a huge fight with [Baltimore Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, and he said he knew,” Alevizos said. “You’re dealing with a very formidable guy there.”

Angelos, who recently explored broad front-office budget cuts for the Orioles, is an opponent of any team moving to the Washington area.

Alevizos also questioned Washington’s ability to get around the Angelos factor. But in the same breath, he said he may put together an ownership group to bid on the Expos should it move to the District. Alevizos, a former executive with the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, said he would like to get back into baseball and was encouraged Monday by Reinsdorf to pursue the ownership ranks.

From its start, Alevizos’ Connecticut bid failed to achieve significant approval or interest from MLB. A late entry to the Expos race, which also includes Norfolk and Portland, Ore., Connecticut was deemed by Reinsdorf and the committee not large enough to support a club. Alevizos proposed to a build a new ballpark on land he owns in suburban Wallingford, Conn., between New Haven and Hartford along Interstate 91.

Eric Stern, spokesman for the Monterrey effort to land the Expos, confirmed Alevizos’ account from Reinsdorf that the Northern Mexico city, Washington and Las Vegas have made an MLB short list.

“This is all consistent with what we have heard,” Stern said.

Carlos Bremer, the leader of the Monterrey bid, is still seeking the Expos on a one-year trial basis before committing to a permanent relocation.

Las Vegas continues to draw interest from several MLB executives, but it is still seen as a long shot for any franchise in the near future. It has a limited TV market and the high percentage of its workforce is on the job during the evening.

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