- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

ATLANTA Many of the leading principals in the ongoing quest to bring baseball back to the Washington area have descended on this city during the All-Star break to play a different kind of game, one Washingtonians seem to do best.

While most of Atlanta is fixated on the national pastime, Washington's baseball interests are being furthered by the pastime invented, perfected and most practiced in the nation's capital: lobbying.

With nearly everyone in baseball in the unofficial capital of the south right now, representatives of the groups trying to bring baseball to either the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia are here to get quality face time, slap a few backs and drive home that the area can support a major league team.

A group headed by telecommunications executive Bill Collins wants to put a team in Northern Virginia, while financiers Fred Malek and James Kimsey want to land a team for the District.

The area's chances of getting baseball for the first time since the Senators bolted for Texas in 1971 hinge on a current club relocating. The Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins, who are floundering in their current markets, are the leading candidates to move, although Oakland, Florida and perhaps San Diego are exploring relocating.

For a team to relocate, 75 percent of baseball's owners need to approve the move. Before they do that, the owners want to know whether the new ownership group is in tune with their views for the future of the sport, has deep enough pockets to support a club through lean years and has the support of the local government.

"We're here to answer all those questions," said John Richardson, chairman of the D.C. Stadium Authority, who arrived in Atlanta yesterday to begin glad-handing on behalf of the District. "We don't want there to be any doubt in anyone's mind. Living in Washington, we don't realize that not everyone knows how much the area has changed since baseball left. We want to show them all the reasons baseball in Washington makes sense and that we have the backing of the local government, which recognizes the economic benefits of a baseball team and wants to be a partner of some sorts."

To that end, Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams will arrive today to demonstrate the District government's commitment to baseball. Such a commitment is vital. Most of the clubs considering a move are in financial trouble because they've been unable to get government funding for a new stadium.

Williams' presence serves as a reminder that the District government has undergone a makeover since the tumultuous regime of Marion Barry.

Barry's problems with drugs and corruption, as well as the District's former label as the murder capital of the nation, were factors considered when Washington did not receive an expansion team in the 1990s.

"We want to show that Washington has gone through a renaissance since the last time many in baseball looked at it," said Bill Hall, the sports commission's chairman of baseball. "We have Metro that will make a stadium as accessible by rail as any in baseball. We have MCI Center and the new convention center, the whole boom of the dot-com economy. Economically this area barely resembles what it was."

Hall and Richardson scheduled several meetings yesterday and today and also hope to "have some unplanned meetings with people we run into at the right event or function," said Richardson, who is expecting Malek and Kimsey to arrive this morning to join in the lobbying. "We want to answer as many questions as possible and show that Washington is ready to play ball."

Collins and spokesman Mike Scanlon also began making the rounds yesterday. Calls to them were not returned.

Both groups also need to demonstrate why one is better for baseball than the other without degrading the area. At this point, it's unclear which group is considered a favorite.

Collins' group almost brought the Houston Astros to Northern Virginia in 1997, but a last-minute deal kept them in Texas. He is well-respected by the baseball community, which no doubt appreciates him bowing out gracefully with the Astros and providing the club the leverage it needed to get its new stadium built.

Malek is a former investor with the Rangers, so he's well known within baseball circles as well. As an advisor to five presidents, Malek is accomplished at the game of politics.

"Baseball's not going to come to Washington unless we sell it," Richardson said. "That's why we're here: to lobby for it."

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