- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

Major League Baseball executives are now targeting a period between late August and the end of the season to make a decision on the future of the Montreal Expos, according to several industry sources.

MLB officials will not decide on the permanent new home by this week’s All-Star Game, which had been the original goal of baseball’s relocation committee. And another season in Puerto Rico, where the Expos will play 22 games this season, remains the team’s most likely option for 2004. But baseball still has not given up on trying to make a decision this year among the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore.

“Unless somebody tells me something different, and they haven’t, I’m going squarely on the assumption that baseball still wants to do this for 2004,” said Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Baseball has expanded its timetable, however, to allow itself more time to study its choices — not a surprise considering that no club has moved since the second Washington Senators left after the 1971 season, as well as MLB’s typically slow decision-making process.

The extra 45 to 90 days also could yield big changes in bids by Portland and the District. Both have stadium financing bills currently before their legislative bodies, though D.C. Council Finance Committee chairman Jack Evans is bottling up the District bill until MLB makes some kind of firm commitment to Washington.

After The Washington Times reported Thursday that an Expos announcement would not likely be coming during the All-Star break, MLB officials said there was no strict timetable to render a decision. But choices still need to be made soon. Even though most owners have remained very patient during the two-year MLB ownership of the Expos, a growing number in that group are getting restless about the club’s future direction, several baseball sources said.

And regardless of where the Expos play next year, stadium leases and physical preparations need to be made. To that end, contingency plans to return the Expos to San Juan for at least part of 2004 have existed for weeks.

While RFK Stadium technically could play host to a baseball game after as little as one month’s work, most familiar with the situation believe four to six months better represents the minimum time needed to prepare the facility. A relocation decision in early October would still yield six months before the start of next season.

MLB also was due to submit a tentative schedule for the 2004 season to the players’ union for approval by July1. It is not known whether that submission has been made.

Meanwhile, officials from both the District and Northern Virginia continue to talk to members of the relocation committee. Goldwater and Steve Green, special assistant in the office of planning and economic development, met Monday in New York with John McHale, MLB executive vice president of administration. The session was designed to answer questions raised by the relocation committee in a June20 meeting in the District.

Goldwater will be attending this week’s All-Star events with a still-undetermined delegation from Washington. From Virginia, Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, and prospective team owner William Collins will be leading a large group of local officials and members of Collins’ Virginia Baseball Club.

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