- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2003

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico When Major League Baseball's relocation committee to determine the future of the Montreal Expos meets again in the next several weeks, it will review proposals made last month by officials from three locations the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore.
They will not, however, be reviewing any data about the location that has garnered so much attention for the Expos in the past week San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Charles Vaughn wants to change that. He wants in on the relocation process, and he wants San Juan, his proposed permanent home for the Expos, to be among the locations considered. So far, baseball officials have not done so despite the 22 "home" games the Expos are playing here this season.
"We want to be invited to the next round [of presentations]," said Vaughn, a 33-year-old Atlanta accountant who established a company called SportsSouth USA as part of his effort to purchase the Expos. "If we are not, we will publicly disclose our financial package and let baseball know that we are willing and ready and have a great project for major league baseball.
"Tell us if we are a contender or not," Vaughn said. "My goal is to have professional baseball on the island permanently."
Vaughn is the only person who has openly discussed the possibility of permanently bringing the Expos, currently owned by the 29 existing major league owners, to Puerto Rico. Such talk has met with skepticism on an island where the median household income is about $9,000 and an estimated 45 percent of families operate below the poverty line. Also, despite claims of baseball being one of the island's biggest passions, the Puerto Rican Winter League the only professional baseball league in Puerto Rico has fallen on hard times and sometimes draws only several hundred people a game.
But Vaughn insists the money and interest exist on the island to support major league baseball for 81 home dates a year.
"I think the market will sustain it," he said. "I think the fan base will rival that of the New York Yankees in passion. It is a captive audience, and economically they can sustain a team."
MLB officials have not had any formal contact with Vaughn and have no meetings of any type scheduled with him, spokesman Rich Levin said.
Vaughn said he will not yet reveal his investors. He did, however, say they are from both the mainland United States and Puerto Rico and admitted one of them is Angelo Medina, a music agent and promoter who previously had been identified as the promoter who brought the Expos games to San Juan. But later it was discovered the money behind the project was provided by another San Juan businessman, Anthony Munoz, owner of one of the Puerto Rican Winter League teams.
Medina has refused to comment about the series or his possible involvement in a permanent major league baseball presence here. And Vaughn, who was not in San Juan for the opening series last weekend, said he was not directly involved in the 22-game Expos project. But he claimed his presentation to baseball officials in September about purchasing the Expos and moving them to San Juan spurred baseball to consider the Expos' new home away from home.
"It put the wheels in motion and drew the initial interest in Puerto Rico," Vaughn said. "I think our demographics have been instrumental in both sides coming to the table. I have done a lot of legwork, and I think my information was used to make the decision on the 22 games."
MLB has come to the island before, staging the 2001 season opener here between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.
Vaughn, who said his mother is from Puerto Rico, became interested in major league baseball in Puerto Rico during his work as a tax and finance executive with an Australian company's North American headquarters.
"I had the opportunity to work with a lot of companies from Puerto Rico and developed a close network of business contacts on the island," he said. "I have seen how the island has changed into a lucrative market over the last seven to eight years."
He said he hopes the interest in the 22 games will move forward his efforts to bring the Expos here permanently.
"So far we haven't done anything [with major league baseball] other than our official notification that we are moving forward with our plans," Vaughn said. "We are anxious to see what goes on with these 22 games. It has been quite favorably received so far and will indicate how passionate fans are there and how they will embrace their own team."
In the first three games, with tickets ranging from $10 for bleacher seats to $85 for field box seats, the series has drawn 52,502 fans to 41-year-old, 19,000-seat Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
Vaughn did not rule out interest in purchasing the Expos for relocation to another city, including the D.C. area.
"But right now the Montreal Expos in Puerto Rico is my primary objective and will be until we are point blank told we will not get them or they are going someplace else," he said.
Four area ownership groups have emerged publicly the Washington Baseball Club, led by financier Fred Malek, who wants to put a team in the District; Virginia Baseball Inc., headed by Bill Collins, who wants the franchise for Northern Virginia; Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, in a partnership with Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder; and Long Island real estate developer Mark Broxmeyer.
Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said Friday he doesn't expect the relocation committee to meet again possibly until the end of the month.
"I've sent out some dates [to committee members], but nothing is scheduled yet," he said while attending the Expos' opener at Hiram Bithorn. "I'm looking for something in the next two to three weeks."
The committee's timetable is to have a recommendation to commissioner Bud Selig by July's All-Star break.

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