- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Picture this: A field of dreams, where boys clear a five-foot circle to hold neighborhood marble tournaments and where girls trade Archie comic books, keeping up on the latest pranks and amorous adventures of some of America's most beloved teen-agers. A place where fathers watch young ones ride two-wheelers without benefit of training wheels, for the first time. Those scenes disappeared in the early 1960s, when D.C. officials decided to turn that field into a parking lot for what now is RFK Stadium. Now, RFK has essentially become a gray ghost home no longer to a Major League Baseball team or the National Football League team. It is a stark reminder of Washington's failed attempts at hard ball.
Now, the District's elected leadership wants to build yet another stadium at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street. There are a couple of other sites under consideration, too, but that's the top pick for several reasons, including subway and parking access. However, I wouldn't want my children attending games in that neighborhood, which has a drug treatment clinic on the same block. Would you want your boys, say, stopping at the nearby McDonald's, trying to eat a Happy Meal amid prostitutes and sniffling junkies?
Have D.C. leaders asked senior citizens and other homeowners in that neighborhood whether they want a ballpark? Do they know there are no nearby bars or sitdown restaurants? Do they know that building a ballpark doesn't guarantee they will come?
Indeed, such attractions were not major considerations for that new stadium in the 1960s. In fact, owners deliberately moved out of the bustling Georgia Avenue corridor and into then-quiet Kingman Park neighborhood.
What we have, in the attempt to again lure baseball to Washington, is a shameful bidding war. The nation's capital is the unofficial front-runner in the bid for the National League's Montreal Expos. The other city in the running is Portland, Ore., and a group of investors in Northern Virginia. The Virignians are looking at several sites, including one near Dulles, and banking on winning the franchise first, then devising a plan to finance a ballpark, which makes sense.
And, therein lies my biggest rub. D.C. officials are laying an estimated $275 million tax dollars on the line, trying to get us to believe that publicly financed ballparks are good for taxpayers. Well, ballparks might be good for cities, but D.C. tax dollars are too good (and too few) for ballparks.
One major player in the bidding war doesn't understand the difference. "Do you hate baseball," he asked me recently."No," I replied. "I love baseball, but I hate publicly financed stadiums."
Washington has a brief history with baseball, but no tradition. It's not like St. Louis, New York or Chicago cities whose cultures and sports histories are inseparable.
The Washington Senators played their first game in April 1961, and by April 1972, the Senators had abandoned RFK Stadium and were playing as the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. We can thank the Democrats for that, since the majority owner of the Senators was Robert E. Short, treasurer for the Democratic Party.
Washington baseball fans shed many tears when the Senators left in 1971 and, ever since then, investors of some sort have been trying to lure another franchise. Mayor Tony Williams seems to want to make that his legacy "See, I brought Major League Baseball back to Washington." Nobody seems to want to challenge him and the other supporters. Nobody wants to stand up and say, "yeah, but at what costs?"
I'm hoping that, since city officials have put the horse before the cart, that D.C. taxpayers will give Mayor Williams and others a piece of their mind at next week's public hearing on the baseball proposal. One hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 11 at Judicary Square, and the other on Thursday, March 13 at the Reeves Center. Beware, public hearings on such matters are usually stacked against ordinary folks, and the propaganda is always obvious. You'll hear supporters say things like, a stadium will bring X number of jobs , X amount of revenue and X economic opportunities for one and all. Don't buy into it.
Handing over $275 million to subsidize a sports team for wealthy owners is the worst kind of corporate welfare, especially when you consider that the ballpark itself would only cost $430 million. That means D.C. taxpayers would be majority owners of the stadium but not the team. What happens if the team owners decide to leave town?
Oh, that's right. D.C. taxpayers would be stuck with two ghostly stadiums.

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