- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

Washington typically is an unpleasant place for Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Not this time.

Selig attended last night’s home opener for the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium, for him a rare trip to the District without the prospect of a high-profile congressional grilling.

Selig said he has been overwhelmed by the response of the Washington area to its new team — particularly a volume of ticket and merchandise sales so heavy that it has pushed the Nationals into the company of baseball’s heavyweights.

“It’s just phenomenal. I obviously hoped this would work, but the reaction here is just stunning,” Selig said. “I know people still say we moved too slowly to get this [relocation] done. But given how Major League Baseball works, where we’ve come from and the time it took for the [bidding] cities to be ready, I feel very good about this.

“It’s quite a tremendous day. I’m very proud of what everyone here has accomplished.”

Selig arrived in Washington late Wednesday and spent much of yesterday fielding congratulations and wishes of goodwill from local fans and politicians. He watched part of the game with President Bush, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The feel-good day represented a near-opposite of Selig’s many gruelling appearances before congressional committees. The most recent of those heated inquiries came just four weeks ago during a House Government Reform Committee hearing on steroids that lasted nearly 12 hours.

“This is one of those days where it’s very, very good to be the commissioner,” Selig said. “I certainly don’t say that every day, but this is definitely one of those days. I can’t even think of a second-best day for me in Washington.”

For many, last night’s gala homecoming of the Nationals finally put to rest the many years of waiting for the oft-delayed relocation of the former Montreal Expos.

The Expos even played parts of two seasons in Puerto Rico, while baseball conducted a prolonged search for a sweetheart stadium deal.

“I don’t think we could have gotten here sooner. We had to work through a process and find a situation in which we could be comfortable, but I’m absolutely convinced we made the right decision,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago White Sox owner and head of the relocation committee that recommended the Expos move to the District. “Baseball belongs in this city, and I’m quite gratified at the reaction it’s received.”

Even with the Nationals now in Washington, the team is playing its fourth season under MLB ownership, a situation unprecedented in modern baseball history. Selig hopes to end the club’s stay as a ward of baseball’s state by midsummer.

Nine groups are seeking to buy the club, including local groups led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zeints; William Collins III; and Jonathan Ledecky.

But under question is how much the franchise will bring. MLB executives ideally would like to garner $350 million to $400 million.

Some prospective owners, however, believe the selling price and the Nationals’ future economic prospects will be compromised by a recent deal between MLB and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos that gives the Orioles a dominant stake in the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network that will serve both clubs.

Selig downplayed any bearishness on the part of potential Nationals owners.

“If there’s any time to be buying a baseball team, to be getting into this business, this is it,” he said.

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