- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four Washington Nationals were named to the 2012 National League All-Star team. Three of them are here for the event, joined by principal owner Ted Lerner, representing one of the most intriguing teams in baseball this season.

And as the Nationals’ surge continues, the question arises: When will Washington play host to the All-Star Game? Chances are it could be as soon as 2015.

In his annual meeting with the Baseball Writers Association of America, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig addressed two major topics involving the Nationals: the possible future site of the Midsummer Classic and the team’s ongoing negotiations with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

The 2013 All-Star Game will be held at Citi Field in New York. The 2014 game is expected to be at Minnesota’s Target Field, an American League park. The Nationals may then be next in line, but the competition to host the game is stiff, and there are more National League parks clamoring for it than there are AL homes.

“There’s no question that I’m amazed how intense people are at wanting to get an All-Star Game,” Selig said. “We’ll just alternate back-and-forth [between the AL and the NL]. That’s all we can do. I’d rather not [alter the rotation] since the game means so much.”

In addition to Nationals Park, which opened in 2008, new parks that have never hosted an All-Star Game include Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park (opened in 2003), Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park (2004), San Diego’s PETCO Park (2004) and Miami’s Marlins Park (2012). The Yankees’ new stadium (2009) has not had one, either, but the All-Star Game was in New York in 2008 and will be again next year.

The Marlins likely would present the stiffest competition to the Nationals’ bid to host one, but there’s no mistaking Washington’s desire to bring the game to the nation’s capital. There has not been an MLB All-Star Game in Washington since 1969.

“[We] would love to host a future All-Star Game,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said in a statement to The Washington Times. “Since commissioner Selig returned baseball to Washington, the Nationals’ ownership group has enthusiastically lobbied him to allow us to honor the game, our fans, and him, by bringing one of the national pastime’s greatest fan attractions to the nation’s capital. We can think of no better place to celebrate America’s game than in America’s city.”

Their current All-Stars would love to see it in their home stadium.

“I think D.C. would be really happy to have one,” said outfielder Bryce Harper. “We have a great fan base out there. They love baseball a little bit more every single day. I think they’re going to have it in 2015 or something like that in D.C.? I’m really excited about that. I’ll be 22, so it’ll be a lot of fun. Hopefully I can do the [Home Run] Derby out there.”

Said left-hander Gio Gonzalez: “Why not? It’s a beautiful ballpark. I’ve heard players leaving that place saying it’s unbelievable. Just a great feeling now. The crowds that are coming out now, imagine. Bring them all out. You’d be getting them from everywhere. Maryland, Virginia, New York, everywhere.”

When Nationals Park opened four years ago, it was with the plan that the area around the park would be built up and become more of a destination. The economic recession has slowed that progress. Before MLB sends one of its premier events there, it might prefer to see more development. The game, though, has been hosted in plenty of areas (Kansas City is a prime example) where the park is not the central location for all of the week’s events.

“Teams are desperate for the game and I really have my hands full trying to juggle through the next few years trying to, be as fair as possible,” Selig said. “Ten, 15 years ago you had to beg people to take it. You had to offer them some other kind of carrots for them to take this game.”

With regard to the MASN negotiations, Selig expressed at least mild frustration with the ongoing spat between the two sides.

The dispute between the Nationals and MASN, which was supposed to have been resolved long ago, involves a provision in the Nationals’ contract with the Baltimore Orioles-owned network to renegotiate their rights every five years. A June 1 deadline originally was set. That was delayed to July 1 and has since been delayed further.

Selig refused to offer details on the situation saying only: “We are in the midst of very intense discussions. That’s all I can tell you. Very intense.”

Pressed for a timetable on when he’d like to see the negotiations — arbitrated by a three-person panel from the commissioner’s office — Selig said “about a month ago.”

“But we’ll keep moving that ahead until we get it resolved, as quickly as possible,” he added.

The Nationals are looking to roughly triple the $29 million they earned from MASN in 2011. Orioles owner Peter Angelos and MASN are offering significantly less.

The contract, as currently constituted, has the Nationals owning roughly 11 percent of MASN, with that stake growing approximately 1 percent per year but maxing out at 33 percent. Angelos and the Orioles own the rest — a provision the league agreed to in order to placate Angelos when it was trying to move the team from Montreal to Washington in 2005. The Lerner family, which purchased the team in 2006, agreed to the initial contract.

But recent television contracts signed by other teams in the league, combined with the growing popularity of the team with the National League’s best record, have made the Nationals’ share woefully low. The issue appears to be growing more contentious the longer it drags, and Selig’s frustration was evident.

The situation between the teams is unique, and what many view as unfair, in that one team holds such significant power over another team’s television rights. Selig, however, said that fact did not trouble him, and he did not regret the initial deal made with Angelos and the Nationals.

“That was part of a process that was really complicated and at the time,” Selig said. “I can’t second guess that. We just have to work our way through this now. Disputes between clubs are not uncommon. That’s why we have a commissioner. [But] that was a deal that had to be done.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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