- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

Despite the lack of any commitment from Major League Baseball for a Washington-area franchise, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission (DCSEC) and an investor group led by financier Fred Malek are actively preparing for a team as soon as this spring.
The two sides signed a two-year working agreement earlier this month to seek a franchise jointly, and yesterday marked the first weekly meeting to activate that agreement. As a result, plans are now developing to make initial modifications to RFK Stadium for baseball, which will cost more than $1 million, and a full review of the Mount Vernon Square site favored for a new ballpark. Both initiatives are set to begin later this month.
"The last thing we want is for the call from Major League Baseball to finally come and us not be ready," said Bobby Goldwater, DCSEC executive director. "There is a lot to be done, and what we've now done is put together a road map."
The most visible signs of Washington preparing for baseball will be numerous physical modifications at RFK. Among the planned changes are resodding the field, upgrading the press box and clubhouses and moving seats located beyond the left-field wall to permit major league dimensions.
Most of these changes almost certainly would not be implemented until MLB actually makes a commitment to a local franchise. But the new buzzword among local baseball advocates is preparedness.
"We're operating under the assumption that we're part of the solution to what's happening in baseball, and even without a formal announcement we're getting ready," said Stephen Porter, a District attorney and member of the Malek group. "We're going to be absolutely relentless in this effort."
The Mount Vernon site along Massachusetts Avenue Northwest is the Malek group's preferred site thus far for a new stadium, but all viable options, including a site adjacent to RFK, will be considered in this fresh review.
The DCSEC last considered potential sites for baseball in early 1999, and that study, while extensive, is considered out of date. Neither side indicated a targeted completion date on the new site surveys, but a clearer direction on a first choice of site could be known within several weeks.
The two sides are also investigating funding sources for a park. District Mayor Anthony Williams last fall committed to MLB officials $200 million in public sector financing, which likely would fund slightly more than half the cost of a baseball-only facility. But with such a commitment requiring City Council approval and the overall economy continuing to wobble, alternatives are being sought.
No relocation of any team is expected this year because commissioner Bud Selig already has ruled that out, and MLB is still trying to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos before this season. But with MLB's contraction effort seemingly on life support a Minnesota appeals court Tuesday upheld an earlier injunction requiring the Twins to play in 2002 and the game badly in need of an infusion of new cash, expectations for a Washington team in 2003 have grown considerably.
MLB officials said earlier this week that two unsolicited bids for the Expos, one from Malek and the other from a Northern Virginia group led by telecommunications executive William Collins, would not be accepted. But Selig also said last week that relocation was coming to baseball "much, much sooner than later" and that the Washington area was "a prime candidate" for it.
"There is a true intensity of effort now under way, and it is something we hope Major League Baseball takes notice of and thoughtfully considers," Goldwater said.

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