- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

The only thing worse than Peter Angelos having the nerve to host a “D.C. Summer Fanfest” in the heart of the city Wednesday — a few weeks after declaring on a Baltimore radio station that there are no “real” baseball fans in the District — would be for anyone to show up for this insult.

If you are a baseball fan and come to the Orioles store at Farragut Square on Wednesday for the “games, free food, fan forums and autograph sessions with Orioles players and coaches,” then you are a fool, plain and simple. When you ask Lee Mazzilli or Miguel Tejada for an autograph, just have them make it out to “Sucker.”

It was always sort of nervy for the Orioles to hold this annual “Fanfest” in the first place, given the battle that has taken place the past 10 years to try to bring major league baseball to the Washington area.

But to come to town on the heels of Angelos’ insult to the city is particularly galling and should be met with such indifference that the lack of activity at Farragut Square on Aug.18 could be felt in the offices of Major League Baseball in New York.

Spiro Alafassos, Orioles executive director of communications, declined to comment on Angelos’ statement on the radio. But he defended the club’s District event, saying it is the franchise’s effort to satisfy its Washington area fans.

“We believe that a large contingent of our fan base is in the D.C. metro area, and this is the one time of the year that we can give back to those folks and not make them come to us,” Alafassos said. “It has become a well-attended event that both the players and the front office enjoy participating in every year. It also helps promote our store in the District, which has seen an increase this year in being used as a satellite ticket center.”

But how can they talk about giving back to fans who, according to Angelos, don’t exist?

Why not go to the Maryland suburbs, where the owner suggested the real baseball fans reside?

“Because Farragut Square was under construction, we did look at the suburbs, perhaps bringing smaller groups of players to various malls, like White Flint and Tyson’s Corner,” Alafassos said. “Then we found out the construction in Farragut Square would be finished in time to hold the event there. But we would have been just as happy to do it in the suburbs, and in the future that may be what we do, instead of one centralized event.”

This should be the last “D.C. Summer Fanfest” the Orioles bother to hold in the city, whether the Montreal Expos are relocated to the District or Northern Virginia.

Even if the Expos are not moved to this area, the damage done to whatever fan base the Orioles can lay claim will be severe and long-lasting. Because by then, everyone will know baseball will never come to Washington and everyone will know why — because of Angelos and the Orioles.

Once that happens — when his opposition goes from an argument to an action — the repercussions will make Angelos one of the most hated sports figures in the Washington metropolitan area. He will be right up there with the man who took baseball away from the city, former Senators owner Bob Short.

The entire issue of baseball coming back to the Washington area revolves around Angelos. The latest intelligence, coming from Hall of Fame baseball writers Murray Chass of the New York Times and Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times, has Angelos receiving assurances from commissioner Bud Selig at the All-Star Game in Houston last month. Selig said he would do nothing to make the Orioles owner “unhappy” concerning the relocation of the Expos. Reportedly, he told the same thing to baseball’s bankers in a meeting the day of the All-Star Game.

Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer, downplayed the reports, noting there was no source attributed to them. All we are doing at this point is reading tea leaves, and this was a particularly unnerving tea leaf because of what I saw in Houston.

When Selig came to talk to the Baseball Writer’s Association of America on the day of the All-Star Game, Angelos, of all people, showed up in the room around the same time, as if he had come with Selig. And the Orioles owner appeared pleased.

Still, most of the speculation remains that baseball has no realistic relocation options other than the District or Northern Virginia. Few people are taking seriously the other possibilities at this point — even Las Vegas, a location that gets a lot of play but is seen as a relocation threat for the Oakland Athletics, which the team can use as leverage for a new ballpark in San Jose.

As a result, the consensus has been to either relocate to the Washington area or hang on to the Expos and set up another round of contraction talks when the agreement with the union expires in two years.

That won’t happen, though. A decision will be made this year, if for no other reason than baseball loses its leverage come Jan.1, 2005. That’s when most of the funding legislation in place for a ballpark in Virginia expires. There are no plans to go back for another round, and Virginia Baseball chairman Bill Collins has made it clear that this is the last run after 10 years for his group.

“This [legislation] was done a number of years ago, and it has been extended twice,” said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. “Based on the budget battles that have gone on here and the politics in Virginia, we would have a slim chance of resurrecting it once it expires.”

Without Northern Virginia in the mix (and without Norfolk, whose bid is tied to the same legislation), there is no game left for baseball to play. It leaves District officials to bid against themselves — and I don’t think even they could mess that up.

According to Paul, the deadline may even be earlier — perhaps Nov.1 — because of notification required for a lease procedure. “Practically, we are looking at the end of October,” he said.

Baseball appears to have put off making a decision on relocation at their owners meetings next week in Philadelphia. That doesn’t leave much time, with much still seemingly unresolved, particularly the biggest problem — Peter Angelos.

Perhaps once fellow owners beg Selig to stay beyond his current term, which ends in 2006 — as they are expected to do next week — maybe then he won’t care what makes Angelos unhappy.

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