- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

The deal between Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos apparently is back on. The Angelos family will purchase Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County, and the governor will support slots at the racetrack.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele contrary to the wishes of the leaders in his home county wasn’t subtle about how much he and his boss are counting on Angelos’ influence to push slot machines through the state legislature when he declared the Rosecroft purchase “a significant step forward in that discussion” to approve slot machines this coming session.

The deal started coming together several weeks ago, when Ehrlich publicly came to the aid of Angelos in the Orioles’ quest to get a deal from Major League Baseball to protect the team from any perceived losses resulting from the Montreal Expos’ relocation to Washington. Ehrlich said any hit the Orioles took at the box office could hurt state tax revenue from the ballpark.

Ehrlich was not so bold publicly about the incompetent way his slot buddy ran the franchise, resulting in declining attendance every year from 1997 through 2003 and thus the loss of state tax dollars.

But if Gov. Ehrlich really had the pocketbooks of Maryland taxpayers at heart, he would embrace Washington baseball and take a look at the big picture and not just the Orioles. A baseball team in the District only enhances what could be a marketing bonanza for Maryland tourism the best baseball destination in America.

With the May opening of a sports museum at the old Camden Station outside of Camden Yards, coupled with the arrival of National League baseball just over the border in the District, Maryland looks to be the best baseball vacation in America. Instead of going through the transparent motions of protecting Angelos’ investment for the sake of something as degenerate as slot machines, the state should be actively promoting baseball as the state’s primary tourist attraction.

It will be a veritable theme park with five minor league teams and a sixth possibly on the way, a famous baseball academy and the home of the Cal Ripken World Series in Babe Ruth baseball, the new sports museum featuring 22,000 square feet of exhibits, the Babe Ruth birthplace and two major league teams within driving distance.

Maryland State of Dreams. Sounds better than State of Slots, doesn’t it?

It starts up Interstate 95 in Aberdeen, where Cal Ripken’s Aberdeen Ironbirds rank among the top minor league clubs in merchandise sales and play in Ripken Stadium, one of the best minor league ballparks in America. The park also plays host to the Cal Ripken World Series, fast becoming a rival to the Little League World Series. Next door, Ripken is in the process of developing one of the premier baseball academies in the country.

Then there’s Baltimore, which has the new Sports Legends at Camden Yards museum, Babe Ruth’s birthplace and Orioles Park itself a draw for tours even when the team is out of town. Two Orioles minor league affiliates are within driving distance of Camden Yards the Class AA Bowie Baysox and the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds. Head west on I-70 and there’s another Orioles affiliate, the Class A Frederick Keys. And just over South Mountain is Hagerstown, now the home of the New York Mets’ Class A affiliate.

Last season, more than 1.3million fans attended minor league baseball games in Maryland. And it appears a sixth team in Hughesville, Md., is on its way a club that presumably could become an affiliate of the Washington Nationals, who will open the 2005 season at RFK Stadium the final stop of the Maryland baseball vacation.

The Nationals are another jewel in the sales pitch that will make this region unique and appealing to millions of families. That is an investment worth promoting and protecting.

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