- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

Northern Virginia's Congressional delegation made perhaps its boldest stroke to date in the long-running efforts to return baseball to the Washington area, sending a strongly worded letter to Bud Selig urging the sport's commissioner to locate a team here as a tribute to America's fallen in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The letter, dated Oct. 25, exhorts Selig to locate a team in Northern Virginia, as "now more than ever is the time for Major League Baseball to restore the game that calls itself 'America's National Pastime' to the capital region." Also in the letter is an open invitation to help dedicate a newly constructed stadium near the Pentagon or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as a "new national landmark ballpark."
Within that invitation is the suggestion of federal involvement in the creation of the ballpark, as it would in part serve as "a lasting memorial to American freedom and to the men and women of our armed forces who gave their lives in its defense on September 11."
The letter is signed by Republican senators George Allen and John Warner, Republican representatives Frank Wolf and Tom Davis and Democratic representative Jim Moran.
Davis last night stopped short of pledging federal funds toward a local ballpark, as the letter appears to suggest, but said a strong possibility exists of the ballpark including a physical memorial to the victims of Sept. 11.
"A team and a ballpark here would contribute to nothing less than the rebirth of the area," Davis said. "We think the time has come and the marketplace has spoken that this area needs and will support a team."
Current cost estimates for a Northern Virginia ballpark point to a $300 million project, roughly two-thirds funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia through the issuance of bonds. The rest would come from private funds, largely from a prospective ownership group led by telecommunications executive William Collins.
The letter follows up on meetings the delegation, as well as bidding groups from Northern Virginia and the District, conducted earlier this month with Corey Busch, Selig's point man on prospective relocation markets. All of the local parties conveyed to Busch in tough terms their mounting frustration over the region's long wait for baseball.
The area has not had major league baseball since the second Washington Senators team left after the 1971 season.
Numerous independent studies point to greater Washington as by far the largest and wealthiest market without major league baseball, and attendance estimates for a local team more than double typical turnstile counts in Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Since the meetings with Busch, Selig has publicly reiterated his nearly year-old stance that eliminating two, and perhaps four, franchises remains a viable option to correct the game's fast-growing competitive and fiscal disparity. The owners will meet Nov. 6 in Chicago to begin drafting their proposals for the game's future economic system, as well as a bargaining position for upcoming labor talks with the players association.
The contraction talk has angered local parties involved in the baseball effort to the point that Congressional leaders are now considering reopening hearings to remove the game's cherished antitrust exemption, and local parties may start or join the raft of lawsuits contraction would certainly bring. Northern Virginia, in particular, has spent seven years and at least several million dollars actively pursuing a team, often at baseball's behest.
"The talk about contraction highlights the fragile state of baseball's economy in a couple of cities. But we certainly believe, and this letter reiterates, that there is a far more obvious solution right in front of our faces," said Michael Frey, chairman of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. The authority would lead the development of a new ballpark if Northern Virginia lands a team.
Fred Malek, leader of the District-based effort to land a team, also cheered the Northern Virginia delegation's salvo. While he believes a local team would be much better suited in downtown Washington, he also favors a Virginia team as opposed to none at all.
"We think this idea and this letter makes complete sense," Malek said. "It would send a wonderful message to place a team here. [The delegation] is right on."
Selig was not available for comment yesterday.

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