- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Virginia Baseball Club officials yesterday said a bankruptcy filing by Metrocall Inc., the Alexandria paging company chaired by VBC leader William Collins, will not harm the group's ability to buy and operate a major league baseball team.
Metrocall, a long-troubled company, yesterday made a pre-packaged chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, listing debts of $937 million and assets of $189.3 million. The long-expected filing was made in cooperation with the company's creditors, and is intended to give Metrocall more time to plot its long-term future. One-way pager use in the U.S. has plummeted by nearly 40 percent since 1998, and Metrocall has not earned a profit since 1992.
The filing, however, also comes at a sensitive time as VBC is seeking to close a five-year extension of its operating agreement with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. The agreement, in force since 1997, grants Collins and his partners status as the commonwealth's preferred baseball ownership group.
The authority, unable to reach a decision last week on the contract extension, will pick up the issue again June 13. Collins' group has been seeking to own a local team since 1994.
"This [bankruptcy] filing is completely separate from Virginia Baseball and has nothing at all to do with that," said Jerry Burkot, VBC spokesman. "Bill Collins' financial wherewithal is not tied to Metrocall. His fortune was made and committed long ago."
Collins' stock in Metrocall, including options, is worth less than $16,000 at current rates.
The collective net worth of VBC is not certain. But Collins' major corporate investors include Wachovia Corp., Fine Host Corp. and Friedman Billings Ramsey Inc., backing Collins' long assertion that purchasing and relocating a team and helping fund a new ballpark would present no problem for the group. The total bill for all that easily could exceed $400 million.
Authority officials, awaiting an independent report on the finances of the Collins group, declined to address specifically the Metrocall bankruptcy filing. But since Metrocall itself is not a VBC investor, the filing may not attract significant scrutiny within baseball circles.
"Unless a company is an investor [in VBC], we're not really looking at a company," said Gabe Paul, authority executive director. "We're looking strictly at the individuals and entities involved."
Bankruptcy filings are not foreign to baseball owners and their other commercial holdings. The Baltimore Orioles were purchased in bankruptcy court in 1993 by current owner Peter Angelos. Other current owners who have seen outside businesses file for chapter 11 protection include Colorado's Jerry McMorris and Cincinnati's Carl Lindner.


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