Tuesday, June 22, 2004

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was still dark. Before I left my suburban Maryland home, I woke up my wife and kissed her goodbye.

“Tell the kids I love them,” I said to her.

“When will you be back?” she asked nervously.

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“Write me,” she said.

“I’ll try, but I’m not sure whether the post office picks up mail where I’m going,” I said.

I went outside and got into my car and left, heading for parts unknown — or, if Virginia Baseball supporters have their way, the future home of the Montreal Expos.

They held a press conference yesterday to unveil Virginia Baseball’s latest and perhaps last-gasp hope for convincing baseball to put the Expos in Northern Virginia.

“This is the future,” Virginia Baseball chairman Bill Collins said. “This is where the businesses of America are locating.”

It may be the future, but for the present, the proposed ballpark site out near Dulles Airport, at the intersection of the Dulles Access Road and Route 28, looks like Wal-Mart country to me.

Then again, given the rapid growth in the Washington area — particularly in Northern Virginia — today’s wasteland is tomorrow’s bustling metropolis. As far away as this proposed site is from the District, it has some appeal for Major League Baseball. It might be enough to tip the scales in favor of Northern Virginia in its fight with the District for the Expos.

It helps to have involvement from corporations like Marriott to help finance the proposed ballpark and create a $4.5 billion new town development. The addition of housing, offices and commercial businesses, with the ballpark as the linchpin of this plan, appeals to businessmen. And lest we forget: Baseball owners are businessmen, too.

Nearly all of the ballparks built over the past 14 years — following the success of Camden Yards — have gone up in urban settings. It is considered part of the formula for success, though it is not foolproof (see Detroit and Milwaukee). Still, baseball commissioner Bud Selig has stated repeatedly the game is in creativity mode these days. He takes pride in saying baseball is willing to embrace new concepts, and the suburban Virginia proposal falls under that category.

It is hard to ignore that the site everyone wanted — including baseball officials — was in Arlington. That way, the ballpark would be close enough to the District to have the nation’s capital in the background and be close to a Metro stop.

But from a Dulles ballpark, a high-powered telescope would be needed to get a glimpse of the nation’s capital. Officials insist a rail system will be built to the site by 2012 — if things go according to schedule. When was the last time a public works project — especially a transportation project — was completed on schedule?

What is helped most by this proposed ballpark site is baseball’s relationship with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. He is the major roadblock to baseball coming back to the Washington area.

This ballpark would be more than 60 miles from Camden Yards, nearly twice as far as the District’s proposal for a ballpark next to RFK Stadium. Angelos, in recent public comments, said a competing franchise near Dulles Airport, while still a problem for his team, would be less of a problem than a team in the District.

Angelos’ primary concern may be television revenue and corporate advertising, but attendance is the big issue. A ballpark near Dulles Airport won’t affect the Orioles attendance as much as a District stadium. Fannies in the seat count, especially when that number dropped significantly in recent years at Camden Yards.

Collins obviously believes the Angelos factor works in his favor. He kissed off any interest his group had in attracting suburban Maryland fans to the Virginia ballpark and said, “This is a site that Peter Angelos can endorse.”

Wouldn’t that be rich?

The District has lost some momentum since it made its fully financed ballpark proposal for the site next to RFK Stadium a few weeks ago. First, the chairman of the city council’s delusion committee, Jack Evans, failed to get support for his Banneker site. Then, questions were raised abut District businesses embracing more taxes for the ballpark. Finally, of all things, Marion Barry resurfaced publicly and opposed the city’s baseball plans. That doesn’t make for a good sales pitch for the District.

Still, the RFK plan made a big impact on the baseball owners’ relocation committee, and if baseball is committed to the nation’s capital, then the District still has a strong hand to play.

Those same committee members received a private tour of the Dulles site not along after the District meeting and came away interested in the concept.

What does all this mean? Nobody knows.

At last year’s All-Star Game, people on both sides — the District and Northern Virginia — were convinced they were leaving Chicago with a team.

This year, one of them actually may have one when they leave Houston after the All-Star Game.

Hopefully I will find my way home before then.

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