- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Washington’s baseball dreams have elevated from cautious, highly guarded hope to bullish expectation.

Nothing is by any means official, and no announcement of the Montreal Expos’ new home will be made during two days of Major League Baseball owners’ meetings starting today in New York. But District baseball boosters are more visible and vocal than ever in their belief the club will be playing in RFK Stadium next April.

They are not alone in that thought. A New England developer who unsuccessfully tried to move the Expos to Connecticut said Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of MLB’s relocation committee, told him last week the District was in the lead to gain the struggling club. The Los Angeles Times this week quoted an unnamed American League team executive saying, “Where else if not Washington?” Media commentary over the last several weeks also points universally to the District as the Expos’ probable destination.

“This is still all up to the owners of course, but all the discussion [lately] about Washington certainly is of great interest to us,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “We feel extremely good about our proposal. It was a very substantive and important document we put forth.”

MLB’s relocation committee will meet today, and then report to the full group of team owners tomorrow. No votes on the Expos’ situation are expected, but the relocation panel is expected to begin winnowing down the candidates to a few finalists. According to comments attributed to Reinsdorf, an informal short list already includes the District, Las Vegas and Monterrey, Mexico. A spokesman for Reinsdorf has said the Chicago White Sox owner denies calling Washington the front-runner.

Signs also continue to pour in that baseball is at last truly serious about moving the Expos and slowing the talent exodus that has plagued the club. Last week’s signing of second baseman Jose Vidro to a four-year, $30million extension included provisions that under certain conditions, Vidro can exit the deal if the team is not moved by the end of the 2005 season.

Vidro also can become a free agent if the franchise is eliminated or moved outside the continental United States. Such a clause would appear to make Monterrey, one of six remaining candidates for the Expos, a longer shot.

To be certain, Washington is in no way a runaway relocation choice for baseball. Its 33 years without a team and MLB’s three-season ownership of the Expos quickly attest to that, as does the AL executive quoted in the Los Angeles Times, who also said, “We’re talking about a two-time loser. The landscape may have improved, but how foolish are we going to look if it fails again?”

Yet three key elements appear to have pushed the District into front-running status, perhaps by default. Mayor Anthony Williams said last month he would agree to MLB’s demand for a ballpark financed fully with public dollars, a position not equaled by any of the other suitors. RFK Stadium still stands as by far the largest and most viable facility among potential interim homes for the team. And of course, Washington remains the largest TV market in the hunt — more than twice as large as that of Portland, Ore., and more than three times as large as those of Norfolk and Las Vegas.

“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next [with the owners], but we’re certainly looking for good news,” Tuohey said.

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