Kirk wants AAA team in Prince George's, new or used If expansion fails, owner would buy club, move it

September 25, 1991|By Mark Hyman

Peter Kirk says he has not, underscore "not," abandoned his plan to bring a Class AAA minor-league expansion team to the Annapolis-Bowie area.

But if that effort fails, Kirk says, he is ready with Plan B, which he says may work as well as Plan A. He'd buy an existing minor-league team and move it to Maryland.

"If we get an expansion team, great. Either way, I am very confident we're going to be playing minor-league baseball in Prince George's County in 1993," said Kirk, who leads Maryland Baseball Partnership Limited, owner of the state's minor-league teams in Frederick and Hagerstown.

So far, Kirk said his group has made "preliminary inquiries" into buying and moving a minor-league team, but he added those talks are unlikely to gain momentum until two Class AAA expansion franchises are awarded, perhaps sometime in the next month.

"No one is really willing to sit down and talk until the expansion process is completed. After that, a couple have told us they'd be willing to explore some things," Kirk said.

Talk of putting a minor-league team in the Annapolis-Bowie area has been alive for more than a year, since Kirk's group formally announced it was seeking one of two expansion franchises planned for Class AAA, the highest level of play in the minor leagues. Other cities still in the running for teams, which are expected to begin play in 1993, are Ottawa, Tulsa, Okla., Charlotte, N.C., and Birmingham, Ala.

The process is scheduled to move ahead this weekend at a meeting of Class AAA owners in Palm Springs, Calif., where an expansion committee apparently will submit a long-awaited recommendation that will include its list of the two most qualified cities. That report will go to National Association president Sal Artiaga, who is expected to make the final choice, with major-league commissioner Fay Vincent, within several weeks.

Committee members have declined to talk publicly about their recommendations. But Kirk, who heads a Columbia real-estate development company, said his information is that the five finalist cities are tightly bunched and that all are rated highly.

"It really appears there is not likely to be a clear-cut winner, so it's going to be decided on very subtle factors," he said. "That means we're a tossup, as likely to get expansion as not."

Others are slightly less optimistic. "I would think it's an uphill battle for Bowie, facing some of these places," said Del. Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, who has helped to secure $4.5 million in state funds to help build a 10,000-seat stadium for the proposed team.

"You're facing Charlotte, N.C., which is a very aggressive, positive community. They really go after things. . . . And Ottawa, I would think both big-league teams in Canada would make a big push for a Triple A franchise close to their [major-league] operations."

Kirk's group also has campaigned aggressively. Its effort includes plans for the $9 million stadium to be built along Route 50. In addition to state money, the stadium will be financed with $3 million from Prince George's County and $1.5 million from the team owners, who also would pay $5 million to buy the expansion franchise.

Kirk declined to identify the existing teams that his group might be interested in buying. He said the group preferred to buy and move a Class AAA team, but had considered other options. "If we can't [buy] one, we'll get a Double-A team and move it to Triple-A," he said.

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