- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

After 33 years, tens of thousands of hours of work on stadium plans, countless rallies and several near-misses, the return of baseball to the District could come down to a simple press release.

Major League Baseball officials say a method of announcing the Montreal Expos’ new home this week has not been finalized. But the most likely scenario is for them to issue a plainly worded written statement. A press conference by commissioner Bud Selig, if any, would be held later.

This is but one example of the striking abruptness that has marked the final chapter of a process that has been anything but abrupt.

Ever so quickly, District officials have closed in on a deal to build a ballpark in Southeast, near the Anacostia River waterfront. There was no one magic bullet that led the Expos to the District. But over the past 100 days, several key tipping points did occur.

• The announcement by the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority to build a stadium in Loudoun County. Though stadium authority officials did their best to put together a new stadium plan after last year’s fiasco in Arlington, the plan never could overcome the stigma of being too far from central Washington. Political battles over how to back the financing for the ballpark only compounded the troubles.

• The willingness of the District to build a ballpark at the Southeast location, near South Capitol and M streets. Though this was not the District’s first choice, MLB wanted an urban site as far from Baltimore as possible, and the city acquiesced to that request. Once that decision was made, it opened up a new depth of discussions. And those talks manifested themselves 11 days ago in a 11-hour negotiation session that produced the basic outline of a document to govern the Expos’ move to Washington.

• Mayor Anthony Williams’ decision to stay visibly engaged in the pursuit for the Expos, particularly when MLB executives stalled month after month. By comparison, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner was publicly silent on the matter for months. And when he finally got back off the bench in recent weeks, it was to spar over stadium financing with the relocation committee when he had little leverage in the fight.

• The victory of three opponents of public stadium financing in this month’s Democratic primary elections for the D.C. Council. That event removed any remaining chance of the Expos staying in Montreal next season and crystallized the entire timetable for relocation. Without a decision from MLB in the next week, there will not be enough time to pass stadium financing before those new members join the council or renovate RFK Stadium for baseball in time for Opening Day.

This all contrasts rather sharply from the situation just last month, when MLB president Bob DuPuy harrumphed there was still “nothing we can tie a ribbon around and sign.”

Three days ago, DuPuy said there remained “several loose ends” on the Expos. The largest of those, of course, is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who remains vehemently opposed to a team in the Washington area. Angelos believes such rival would drain his club economically.

DuPuy continues to make overtures to Angelos to solve those fiscal concerns, most notably through talk of creating a new regional sports network that could keep Orioles games well distributed into Washington-area households.

Nothing resembling a compensation agreement for Angelos is imminent. And this particular saga could easily get ugly, either through a lawsuit or some type of delay tactic that renders the D.C. Council unable to do its legislative work on a stadium in time to complete the Expos’ move. Angelos has no obvious legal ground that would merit a lawsuit. But he is nothing if not a fighter.

But if another tipping point is found like those of the past few weeks — such as MLB commissioner Bud Selig at last taking a hard line against his friend and colleague — another simple press release could materialize announcing Angelos’ reluctant willingness to go along with a District team.

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