- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

We had a good laugh when word came out a year ago that the Norfolk area known as Hampton Roads was competing with Washington for a Major League Baseball franchise.

At least I had a good laugh, saying their effort established a new market description for baseball: minimarket.

Well, not everyone thought it was funny, apparently. Jeffrey Loria, when he owned the Montreal Expos, apparently took it seriously. He had talks with community leaders about moving the Expos to Hampton Roads, according to James Eason. Eason is the former mayor of Hampton and the president of the Hampton Road Partnership, the group that has been working to bring a major league sports franchise to the area.

And the Baltimore Orioles took it seriously enough to give their blessing to the Norfolk effort, saying they would not stand in the way of a franchise being relocated to Hampton Roads.

Ha, ha.

"We had conversations with the owners of the Montreal Expos, the Loria group," Eason said. "One of the things that was attractive was that we had no local ownership group, because he wanted to maintain most of the ownership interests.

"This took place in the spring and summer of last year, but then there was a gag order put on the owners, so there wasn't any more talk. But they knew we were interested, and they had a number of conversations with people acting on our behalf."

That's a little bombshell not a big one because the Hampton Roads area is no longer interested in getting a franchise. Eason told The Washington Times last week that the focus is now on a transportation referendum for the region. And Loria now owns the Florida Marlins as a result of the swap deal he did this past winter that allowed Marlins owner John Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox and the major league owners to take over ownership and operation of the Expos. Loria could not be reached for comment.

Hampton Roads also had been visited several times by Corey Busch, Cadillac Bud's point man on researching prospective relocation sites. Hampton roads was told by Busch that it was on a "short list, but that it was never defined about how many communities were on that list."

They certainly were on the Orioles' list of acceptable relocation sites. Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka confirmed that Hampton Roads officials met with the Orioles, and that they told Norfolk area officials the Baltimore franchise would not stand in the way of a team being relocated there. "We had several conversations with the Orioles," Eason said. "We were very appreciative of what they shared with us, and their offer of support."

Why is this relevant now? Just change Hampton Roads to Portland, Ore.

In other words, we should not dismiss the lengths that baseball may go to avoid moving the Expos or any other franchise to Washington and face a battle from Orioles owner Peter Angelos. We should not dismiss the other options available to baseball, even when those options pale in comparison to Washington.

I still think the Expos are going to be relocated to the Washington area, and perhaps by next year. Baseball stands a good chance of getting the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit filed by former Expos investors dismissed. The man who wrote the RICO statute, Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, told me that he doubted it would be successful. "RICO suits are not favored in federal courts," Blakey said. "The courts are hostile to them and are presumptively hostile to them in business contexts."

Once the lawsuit is out of the way, there are enough owners who are grumbling about the notion of supporting the Expos again next year and losing money in the process that they may push the sale through this winter.

If not, the owners may opt to simply move the team to another place next year for a one-year stay. Portland officials already offered Major League Baseball the use of their minor league ballpark they said the park can be expanded to accommodate 21,000 people as a temporary home for the Expos next year.

"We've contacted Major League Baseball and invited them to consider Portland in whatever options they decide to choose involving the Montreal Expos," said Drew Maholic, chief operating officer of the Portland Oregon Sports Authority.

Moving the Expos to Portland next year would appear to be problematic; you can't simply take a team in the National League East and move them to Portland without causing havoc with the schedule. Same goes with this ridiculous notion of having the Expos play in different locations next year, moving them around.

But you can plop them down in RFK Stadium without missing a beat in the schedule, more or less. Those seeking to bring baseball here need to get off this notion that they could use more time and do whatever they can to get the Expos here as soon as they can.

Then Portland can take its rightful place as the next leverage location, replacing Washington as Major League Baseball's patsy.


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