- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Montreal Expos moved a step closer toward another split schedule between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico, yesterday after the Major League Baseball Players Association again softened its opposition to the plan.

Gene Orza, union associate general counsel, conducted a conference call with Expos players on repeating this year’s schedule in which the team played 22 “home” games in San Juan. The players, who last month voted down a split slate for 2004, were open to the concept on several key conditions.

The players want, and will likely receive, a modified schedule that positions all the San Juan games before the All-Star Game, additional meal money and travel to the island for family members, and assurances this split scenario will not extend into 2005 and that team payroll will not be gutted.

“I’m fairly confident that with some reasonability and good faith by Major League Baseball that we could conclude an agreement,” Orza told the Associated Press. “There is a window of opportunity, but we’re still not there yet.”

The outlook represents at least the fourth union position taken publicly on the matter in the last 90 days. In mid-July, Orza said he would not consider any split schedule, calling this year’s slate and the additional travel highly damaging to the Expos’ ultimately unsuccessful postseason chances. That opposition weakened when MLB executives threatened to strip the player payroll for 2004.

Then in mid-September, the players stiffened again, and voted down a split schedule between Quebec and either San Juan or Monterrey, Mexico. The continuing reversals of position are out of step with typical union behavior.

Baseball executives have been seeking a short-term solution for the MLB-owned Expos after its initial plans for a permanent relocation to greater Washington or Portland, Ore., by 2004 fell through. With those plans came demands for new stadium proposals backed by significant public-sector financing — demands that have not been fully met by any jurisdiction.

In the ongoing negotiations between baseball and the union, Monterrey has been eliminated from consideration for part of next year’s Expos schedule, Orza said.

The Monterrey bid, fronted by billionaire Carlos Bremer, had been well received by several MLB executives, including Expos president Tony Tavares, and the city is much larger and wealthier than San Juan. But the Expos players, several of whom are from Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean, strongly favor San Juan over Monterrey.

The 2004 Expos schedule will likely be finalized by the end of the month.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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