- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

So baseball is going to hold a franchise party and is sending out invitations. Reportedly, the District has been invited. So have Northern Virginia, and Portland, Ore. Supposedly, anyone else who wants to come is more than welcome, as baseball does its best to create the illusion of geographic competition beyond the Washington region.

This is sort of like a birthday party when a child doesn't have enough friends to invite. You start running down the list of children in his class who may have spoken to him once during the year. Baseball is running down the list of cities that have uttered the word "relocation" sometime in the last few years.

Otherwise, it will be the District in one chair and Northern Virginia in the other, with Portland sitting in the booster seat.

The committee that baseball has formed to determine where to move the Montreal Expos is inviting representatives of prospective locations for the franchise to a meeting sometime soon.

Prospective owners have been told to stay home, and if you are reading tea leaves to determine the thought process of Cadillac Bud Selig and his showroom sales staff, the message seems to be this:

Location, location, location.

In other words, baseball may first determine where the Expos will likely be relocated, and then figure out who will own the franchise.

It makes sense, and this meeting of jurisdictions sans ownership groups seems to be paving the way for baseball to control this entire process, one step at a time first by determining where they want the team to play, what kind of ballpark they want, and then letting the ownership fall into place.

That means the nice, tidy exclusivity agreements that Virginia Baseball, Inc. has with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority and the Washington Baseball Club has with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission may not be worth the paper they are printed on. If baseball commits to a location, the makeup of the current competing ownership groups could change significantly, and new groups would likely emerge.

This also means that showdown is now in the serious stages between the District and Northern Virginia for the future home of major league baseball in the region. Portland is taking its place at the table as the long-term future patsy for baseball, taking over for Washington as the leverage location where owners threaten to move to get a new ballpark where they are. The Expos are simply not a good fit for Portland because there is no owner to move the team there and retain ownership.

The Expos are owned by all 29 major league owners, thanks to the deal they made last winter to buy the franchise from Jeffrey Loria, who in turn purchased the Florida Marlins from John Henry, which paved the way for Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox. There is no ownership group in Portland ready to step up, and the franchise is simply not going to have the same value there that it will in Washington or Northern Virginia.

Now it will come down to who has the best stadium financing and site, and Northern Virginia and the District have issues on both fronts.

Lately there has been the impression that Northern Virginia's chances have diminished because of the perception that Bill Collins' group has weakened. But if the location is no longer tied to a particular ownership group, then Northern Virginia is very much in the hunt, because in case you haven't noticed, it is farther away from the Baltimore Orioles and Camden Yards than the District, with the liquid version of the Great Wall of China the Potomac River standing between them.

Of course, this is baseball, and often what seems logical winds up laughable. Which brings us to Mexico City.

Baseball is falling over itself to turn this into a battle royal instead of mano a mano between the District and Northern Virginia. So the latest rumor is the possibility of selling the Expos to a wealthy Mexican businessman named Carlos Peralta, a billionaire who made inquiries several months ago about buying the Anaheim Angels. The Expos would be a far more attractive purchase for Peralta, who owns the most successful franchise in the Mexican League, the Mexico Tigers, because, unlike the World Series champion Angels, the Expos could be moved.

Now, this seems ridiculous on many levels, not the least of which would be the costs incurred by each major league club coming to town to pay ransom for their kidnapped ballplayers. Mexico is second only to Colombia in kidnapping, and not just people with a lot of money. Anybody with an ATM card is fair game. It is so bad that Mexico has hired former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as a consultant to deal with the alarming crime rate there. So we could see Rudy in the stands with a Mexico Expos jacket instead of his Yankees garb.

Wouldn't this be the ultimate NAFTA irony? A baseball team moved from Canada to Mexico, bypassing Washington, D.C. What's next, the Expos playing in Puerto Rico?

Oh, that's right. They will be next season.

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