- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How is this for perfectly chaotic political symmetry?

The lease for the new Washington Nationals ballpark might be approved a year, almost to the day, after the D.C. Council’s last-minute approval of the financing agreement.

If this pattern continues, the new owner of the franchise should be picked around the same time in December 2006.

Everyone can live without extending the symmetry that far.

If you think Major League Baseball has dragged its feet in the selection of a Nationals owner, it really is no worse than the city’s failure to recognize early on the need to get this lease done and the problems it would encounter in that process.

Officials of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission should have been meeting with MLB to start the lease negotiations the day after the council approved the financing for the Southeast ballpark. There was no more important document to deal with and certainly none fraught with all sorts of pitfalls, as most sports facility leases are.

Instead, the commission was dealing with issues like naming rights for RFK. Now it finds itself facing a year-end deadline and likely a folded hand by the city’s poker players.

If the lease is not resolved by Dec. 31, it will go before an arbitrator. MLB has made it clear it has no problem going that route, feeling confident it would win that battle, as well it should. MLB has a deal with the city. I doubt District officials like their chances as much.

District officials who know the score also don’t like their chances of getting baseball to kick in $20million for ballpark cost overruns despite the demands of some council members.

Councilman Jack Evans told The Washington Times the city should drop its demand, saying, “Baseball is not going to write us a check for $20 million.”

No, it won’t.

As dire as this all may seem, it is not unusual for a ballpark lease to come down to such drama. Orioles club officials drew up the final negotiated points of the lease with the state of Maryland on a cocktail napkin on a train from Washington to Baltimore, where Gov. William Donald Schaefer was waiting on May 2, 1988, with 50,000 people at Memorial Stadium to welcome the 1-23 Orioles back after their historic 21-game losing streak by announcing the lease for a new downtown ballpark.

Speaking of Maryland, if the District is looking for somebody to pay for cost overruns, why not the state of Maryland and Orioles owner Peter Angelos’ guardian angel, Gov. Robert Ehrlich? Hey, this Mid-Atlantic Sports Network deal was structured to put money in the pockets of Angelos and the state. That was the whole premise behind it. The corrupt way this whole thing was set up was that if the Nationals do better, so does Angelos and therefore the state through MASN. If the Nationals struggle because of a sub-par ballpark, there is no MASN. There is just the NWN — the Nobody’s Watching Network.

OK, that’s not going to happen. It’s a perverse moment of pleasure, based more on a world through the looking glass than on reality. But that is more likely to happen than for baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig to hand over $20 million to the District for ballpark cost overruns. Heck, he didn’t even do that for his own ballpark in Milwaukee.

I wonder whether any Montgomery or Prince George’s County legislator has the sand to make the suggestion that Maryland kick in for the good of Nationals fans in their jurisdictions? That would make all this almost worthwhile.

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