- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

The collars are getting hotter. The shorts are getting tighter. Opening Day for baseball in Washington is in sight, and the nerves are getting frayed.

A decision by baseball’s relocation committee on the future home of the Montreal Expos is expected soon, perhaps as early as next week, and baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig is expected to act on that recommendation shortly after, before the start of baseball’s postseason at the latest, and that decision is widely believed to be between putting the Expos either in the District or Northern Virginia.

As that decision draws closer, the spitting contest between the two jurisdictions is in full swing, with the District hurling the most recent loogies.

On Friday, responding to an old, skewed, public union poll against “public financing” in baseball, District officials released the results of their own poll, among not just city residents but people around the Washington metro region, that claims overwhelming support for baseball in the District.

But the poll didn’t just say they like the idea of baseball in the District. It said they support it over baseball in Loudoun County. Among 919 residents surveyed over the past week, 82 percent supported a District ballpark over the proposed Dulles location. Not only that, two-thirds of Virginia residents said they favored a ballpark in the District.

In a press conference Friday, District officials went out of their way to belittle the proposed Diamond Lake Loudoun County location, at one point declaring this “far western suburb” was so far out that they weren’t even sure where it was. And then there was Jack Evans — Don King’s favorite District councilman (he once declared “Don King Day” in the city) — who apparently thinks he is Richard Daley or some other old political boss who actually runs this city.

Boss Jack, who referred to the proposed Northern Virginia site as a “Disneyland village,” declared that if Northern Virginia would wind up with the Expos instead of the District, the city might pass legislation keeping the team from using RFK as a temporary home.

This is why it was a good thing that, when baseball’s relocation committee came to the city recently to meet with District officials, Evans wasn’t in on the meeting. His strong-arm act has turned off baseball officials in the past, and the threat of refusing to allow the use of RFK — however ludicrous it may be for the city to turn down revenue) — only will add to their opinion of Boss Jack.

Not that it looks like Northern Virginia is going to need RFK. It was a rough week for the commonwealth’s bid. Several key state legislators are balking at the notion of supporting the financing plan for a ballpark, and now land plans for the proposed Diamond Lake development have been scaled back significantly. It’s not looking good for Bill Collins and Co., and perhaps those developments are why Boss Jack and the rest of his gang seemed so chesty Friday.

But District officials could find themselves in a similar situation if their bluff is called, and that bluff is the proposed RFK site — the only location so far presented by Mayor Anthony Williams that fits his proposed fully financed ballpark.

The reality is that they have no plans to build a ballpark next to RFK because there is no way that District businesses are going to be willing to pay a proposed gross receipts tax — nearly half of the proposed financing — for a ballpark they hardly will get enough benefit from. That gross receipts tax will only fly if the District can build the ballpark at one of the other proposed locations where some benefit will be seen — someplace that will draw people to the city not just to watch baseball but to eat, shop and stay.

The proposed RFK site doesn’t deliver that and, according to Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, is not under consideration. “We’re not going to build a stadium at RFK,” he said. “It will be a downtown site.”

If that is the case, the District is in no better shape than Northern Virginia because that site — whether it is New York Avenue in Northeast or the Benjamin Banneker site in Southwest — has not yet been decided upon or perhaps even secured, and so neither has the far more expensive costs for any of those sites been presented by city officials.

And while Virginia legislators seem to be backing away from supporting ballpark financing, the District still doesn’t have a financing plan approved yet by the council, though Boss Jack said Friday that won’t be a problem. “There is no question we can do this package,” he said.

All baseball has to do is trust Boss Jack. Don King would be proud.

If baseball picks the District, it is likely that everything else will fall into place — the site and the financing. But if it picks Northern Virginia, the same is likely. Richmond legislators are not going to stand in the way of a team once it is committed. They may ask for a quid pro quo, which is what all this jockeying could be about.

All this could have been avoided if baseball simply had issued a conditional award, but the primary condition determining the future home of the Montreal Expos remains Peter Angelos, though District officials say they believe otherwise.

“I trust that the people I have been dealing with will make a decision on the merits,” Tuohey said, referring to the owners’ relocation committee.

But as Clint Eastwood might say, merit has nothing to do with it.

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