Tuesday, July 13, 2004

HOUSTON — Major League Baseball is now targeting an Aug.18-19 owners meeting in Philadelphia to name the Montreal Expos’ new home.

As close observers of the long-running relocation saga know all too well, MLB executives have floated many deadlines for a decision and haven’t held to them. But MLB president Bob DuPuy said yesterday he has confidence in the latest timeline.

“I think that owners meeting is a good working goal,” DuPuy said. “The sooner the better. I know we’ve said this before. But it’s time to get this done. I do not believe we won’t have a decision this summer. Not a day goes by when we’re not talking to the various [bid] cities.”

MLB’s relocation committee intends to forward its recommendation to commissioner Bud Selig by the end of the month, industry sources said.

As usual, DuPuy declined to handicap the race, but industry buzz continues to center on the District and Northern Virginia. Both local camps sent members here for the All-Star festivities to lobby for support from MLB owners and executives, a situation that has become an annual norm.

Leading the District delegation this year is Mayor Anthony Williams, while the commonwealth has a large delegation from the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, the prospective ownership group led by William Collins III and Loudoun County supervisor Bruce Tulloch.

“This trip has been much more focused than previous years,” Collins said. “What we’re trying to do is build upon our 11 years of work and finally bring this to a successful resolution. Our confidence is very high.”

For Collins, the trip to Minute Maid Park is particularly ironic. His offer to buy the Astros in 1995 and move them to Northern Virginia instead motivated Houston-area voters to approve public stadium financing and keep the team in Texas.

“We always knew that was a possibility when we were working on that, and look what Houston has now,” said Collins, whose group toured the ballpark yesterday and then lunched with Charley Casserly, the former Washington Redskins general manager who holds the same post with the Houston Texans.

DuPuy and other MLB executives refuse to eliminate any of the Expos’ bidders, at least publicly. But extensive discussions continue to take place with both local camps on topics like detailed construction schedules. And Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas declined to send any representatives here this week, with Norfolk the only area besides Greater Washington to do so.

“We’re continuing to stay in contact with the decision makers and make our case,” said Bill Hall, member of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “Our plan proposes to make use of the District and southern and suburban Maryland instead of West Virginia.”

DuPuy also said the heated objections of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos would need to be “resolved and reconciled” if the Expos come to Greater Washington. He declined to elaborate.

It remains possible the Expos deliberations could extend into the fall. But next month’s meeting is the last such session until after the World Series. A relocation vote from the owners could be conducted by conference call, but given the historical import the decision and Selig’s awareness of history, an in-person vote is most likely.

Meanwhile, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who started his career with the Washington Senators, said he would support a return of baseball to the area.

“I hope they get a ballclub back there,” Killebrew said. “We were just starting to become a good ballclub when we moved to Minnesota [in 1961]. I think the people in that area deserve to have baseball back.”

• Staff writer Thom Loverro contributed to this article.

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