Also-ran cities set to pinch hit if D.C. drops out of race

Deadline is Dec. 31

Vegas `ready to wheel and deal'

Baseball

December 16, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

The bridesmaids are getting their makeup back on.

On the day after the relocation of the former Montreal Expos to Washington was put in serious jeopardy by the D.C. Council, the runners-up in the two-year process were saying they were ready for another shot at the team.

Major League Baseball chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said last night in a statement that "because our stadium agreement provides for a Dec. 31, 2004, deadline, we will not entertain offers for permanent relocation of the club until that deadline passes."

DuPuy's statement did not address where the team would play in 2005, and MLB officials declined to comment on whether contingency plans for the now-renamed Washington Nationals to play elsewhere next season - and beyond - are being developed.

The agreement between MLB and Washington earmarked $18.5 million to bring 43-year-old RFK Stadium up to major league standards.

Baseball awarded the Expos to Washington on Sept. 29. The District beat out contenders that included Las Vegas; Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore.; Monterrey, Mexico; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Oscar B. Goodman, the flamboyant mayor of Las Vegas, said yesterday that, while he didn't "want to bring any bad karma to Washington," his position is clear.

"We want a baseball team, and we're ready to wheel and deal," said Goodman, who attended baseball's winter meetings last week with showgirls on each arm in a hugely successful attempt to publicize his efforts to lure a team to Las Vegas.

Goodman, who met with the Florida Marlins during the meetings, said his city could play host to a team next season.

"I don't want to speculate that it would be the Expos, that's for darn sure," Goodman said. "But could a team play here? We have a minor league stadium [9,334-seat Cashman Field] a stone's throw from my office here that certainly is very utilitarian."

Northern Virginia was seen by many as a favorite to get the team until Gov. Mark Warner expressed concerns over using the state's "moral authority" to back the stadium construction bonds.

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority still exists, although its members are working out of their homes. In addition, two key provisions of Virginia's ballpark financing plan - the ability to use state sales and income taxes and the ability to impose a ticket tax to retire the bonds - expire Jan. 1.

Brian Hannigan, a spokesman for the authority, said it would be possible for legislation to be introduced in January to extend the provisions, but it wouldn't be easy.

"I wouldn't underestimate the challenges and the difficulty that we would have in resurrecting it," he said. "Theoretically, anything's possible.

"Our position, it really is, is that we want baseball to come to this region. We have accepted Major League Baseball's decision, and we're hopeful that the District can make it stick and live up to their end of the bargain. If, for whatever reason, that does not happen, we remain available to rescue baseball for the region, if that's what's required."

At the other end of the state, the head of the group that tried to bring the Expos to the Hampton Roads area said he still expects the team to end up in Washington.

But Will Somerindyke Jr., chief executive of the Norfolk Baseball Co., said his group is still working to get a team.

"Earlier in this effort, we made it pretty clear that we just wanted to get a team," he said. "Whether it was the Expos or that it was a team that came two or three years down the road, we were going to keep this effort going until that opportunity arrives.

"If the Expos come back as an opportunity, we'll see what we can do to get them. I just can't believe it's not going to happen [in Washington]."

Somerindyke said he seriously doubts Hampton Roads could play host to the Expos next season.

"It's too close," he said. "The biggest problem is, we have a facility, but there's a Triple-A team that's in the facility."

In Montreal, Sylvie Bastien, director of communications for the Olympic Installations Board, said the body that oversees Olympic Stadium is focusing on its current tenants, not its former ones.

"As far as we're concerned, the Expos have left Montreal and have left the Olympic Stadium," said Bastien, who added no one from Major League Baseball has contacted the board. "They didn't tell us they might come back.

" ... They've told us, as they told the rest of the world, that they were leaving Montreal for Washington. Well, whatever happens in Washington afterward is none of our business."

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