Monday, June 28, 2004

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, still vehemently opposed to baseball in the Washington area, is lending his support to a late entry bid for the Montreal Expos from Puerto Rico.

The new bid, backed by several unnamed Puerto Rican businessman and fronted by a Miami lawyer, is not connected to the one from San Juan promoter Antonio Munoz that has weakened considerably in recent months. The latest entry calls for a 42,000-seat stadium in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and Angelos, according to several industry sources, has helped the new group get an audience with Major League Baseball officials.

“Mr. Angelos has been very helpful to them,” said a source familiar with the bid, submitted less than two weeks ago.

Scott Shapiro, a Coral Gables, Fla., attorney representing the new group, declined to comment on his relationship with Angelos. But he did say the pair have “similar interests” and called the Orioles owner’s love for baseball “unparalleled.” And when questioned about the Washington and Northern Virginia bids for the Expos, Shapiro’s response was eerily similar to Angelos’ talking points.

“I don’t have anything against the Washington area, but you put the team there and you have the unfortunate consequence of splitting up the broadcast market and creating two mediocre teams that can’t compete,” Shapiro said. “I think that does a real disservice to the fans in Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia.”

Shapiro even cited a Deloitte & Touche study commissioned by Angelos in 1995 and later updated in 2000 that showed 25 percent of the Orioles’ fan base coming from Greater Washington.

Angelos was unavailable for comment yesterday. In recent weeks, he appeared more resigned to the likelihood of the Expos moving to Greater Washington, which is being tabbed as the front-runner in the race. But the latest moves indicate Angelos’ opposition remains steadfast.

The new Puerto Rico bid also arrives as MLB commissioner Bud Selig and president Bob DuPuy are scheduled to meet tomorrow in Milwaukee to discuss the Expos’ relocation options. Last week, DuPuy said a decision will not arrive in time for next month’s All-Star Game, a fact already assumed for many weeks.

Baseball’s experiment in San Juan has wilted quickly. After several strong crowds last year, the repeat engagement this year has produced an average attendance of 11,842, with actual headcounts estimated to be much smaller.

“This is still a virgin marketplace,” Shapiro said. “The Expos simply have not been as good this year, and I think it’s asking a lot of the fans there to go out and support what has become an inferior product. If Puerto Rico truly had a team to call its own, the result would be far more impactful.”

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