Baseball dreams still alive, kicking

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig made more explicit this week that Washington, D.C., is at the top of the list for relocation of a team, comments that prompted Northern Virginia stadium supporters tosay their case is alive.

“I think it’s gotten people considerably excited,” said Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority that was created by Virginia in 1992 and works with the Virginia Baseball Club investor group headed by Bill Collins. “It’s an affirmation of what we’ve believed all along.”

Selig said Thursday that relocation could happen in the near future and that D.C. is at the top of the list.

Some of Northern Virginia’s state legislators were skeptical when the stadium authority presented its positive outlook in Richmond earlier in the week — as D.C. leaders have touted the District rather than Virginia for a team.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has pledged $200 million in city funds for a ballpark.

“It also appears like ‘Lucy holds the football and she doesn’t do anything with it,'” said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-35th, referencing the character from the Peanuts comics. “Are we ever getting a team or are we just chasing our tail?”

“We still have a very good leg up over D.C.,” answered Gabe Paul, executive director of the authority and past vice president of the Milwaukee Brewers. “You want to locate a ballpark near where your fans are.”

Virginia is also on equal footing to accommodate relocation quickly: Both the Collins group and the D.C. investment group, headed by Fred Malek, would be able to use RFK stadium on an interim basis until a permanent stadium was built, according to Hannigan. “We are quite confident,” he said.

The authority has not publicly disclosed what sites it is considering for a stadium, but both Virginia U.S. senators and congressmen from Northern Virginia informed Selig in writing last October that sites near the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Washignton National Airport “could be developed into a new national landmark ballpark.”

Relocation of a team could occur as early as next year, Paul said.

The future of the Montreal Expos is in question as the sport discusses the possibility of contraction, which is Selig’s definition for eliminating teams.

This week Expos former owner Jeff Loria was approved to buy the Florida Marlins, and Marlins owner, Wayne Huezinga, in turn was approved to purchase the Boston Red Sox.

The Expos will be run by the league this season.

“We need to be able to act when major league baseball moves,” Paul said.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, asked why there are so few investors if there is so much interest in Northern Virginia for baseball. Paul said potential investors are kept confidential; there is not a shortage.

The stadium authority estimates a stadium would cost $300 million, and Virginia picking up half the cost in 30-year bonds would realize $153 million more from economic growth than it would pay out during the life of the bonds, Paul said.

If a stadium were built in D.C., Virginia would export $59 million in annual spending — and lose $224.5 million in state tax revenue over the team’s first 30 years, according to George Mason University economist Steven Fuller.

Stadium authority officials added that with D.C. pledging $200 million and the benefits of a stadium — noting the unprecedented city revitalization effect Camden Yards had on Baltimore — the 50-50 arrangement is not unusual.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (804) 649-8710.

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