Friday, May 07, 2004

Pick a Spot on the Map

We're starting to drum this subject into the ground here, but it's only because it's near and dear to us. The Montreal/San Juan Expos are slated to get a new home soon. That we are so keen to believe MLB people who tell us a decision should arrive by July is a blinders-wearing, Memento-memory, glutton-for-punishment type of forgiving gullibility not seen since . . . my perpetual penchant for resuscitating Tug's "Ya Gotta Believe" amid dead-end seasons.

So, we think we know a move is imminent, but where will the think tank end up placing the Expos? It depends upon whom you ask. According to this morning's news, DC officials, including the mayor, met with some MLB folks yesterday and got promising indications from them about Washington's chances. They downplayed the notion of Peter Angelos having veto power, and what with the finances being laid out clearly, there would seem to be no logical obstacle in our way.

"Logical" is, of course, the operative word there. From the moment the brain trust executed the shady, backroom deal to acquire the franchise from Jeffrey Loria (who now wants to take his World Champ Marlins to Vegas, baby), nary a decision has been made regarding the team that has had even a tinge of logic to it. The Puerto Rican experiment (not talking about the Robby Alomar trade -- at least that one seemed smart at the time) is the stuff of late-night talk show jokes. And yet it was carried over for another year. Dragging this out has just eliminated a few locations from the pool. (Hello, Portland.) Must I say this for the millionth time: that there is no team in the capital of the nation / 4th largest metro area in the U.S. of A. defies the business logic of even lemonade-stand-level economics and the nationalistic sensibilities of even first-generation immigrants. So "no logical obstacle" is just silly.

Today's Washington Post lists D.C.'s competition as Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Hampton Roads and Monterrey, Mexico. That Northern Virginia would qualify in ways the District cannot is idiotic, so you'd have to count them out. Las Vegas is probably a financial lock, but the taint of the gambling capital of the world on a sport that considers gambling a greater sacrilege than drug use, steroids, or domestic abuse would seem too much even for baseball. (Again, that's making the assumptive leap that 1+1=2 with these guys.) Monterrey, Mexico is . . . in Mexico! Why would you want to pluck a team out of the muck in Canada and take any sort of international chance in Mexico? You wouldn't. This cannot be a serious candidate, but MLB fails to realize that by keeping them in supposed contention, you waste people's time and money as they devise game plans, ask favors, borrow money, and sell "tickets" to citizens. Baseball can't be bothered to get this done in a timely manner and let people get back to the items that need real attention, though. Nice.

That leaves Hampton Roads, an area feeling a little desolate since, say, 1988. (1993 if you count Williamsburg as a Hampton Roads town.) This is an option probably instantly discounted by 95% of the country: "Where??" As my dad will tell you repeatedly, that market is the single-largest one in the U.S. without a major sports franchise. Primarily known for the Navy, shipyards, and the beach-going tourists, the area has supported the Norfolk (nee Tidewater) Tides for decades. The Tides have been a hit through thick (the heyday of Straw, Nails, and a conveyor belt of talent second only to Atlanta's 1990's stunning farm work) and thin (the last few years, when anyone with a quick bat or a big arm was catapulted to Queens). Now Hampton Roads says they're ready for a big-league squad.

My (not very) secret sources have been in touch with some of the reps of the folks behind the Hampton Roads effort. The money is there, the interim stadium is there, and the fans are supposedly waiting. But would MLB choose Hampton Roads over DC? They say yes, a resounding yes, and here's why: Peter Angelos. He assures them that he will never allow a team in DC. Apparently, he, Steinbrenner, and Reinsdorf hold all the cards among the owners, and that they push the other guys around. Has "the Little General" Angelos deluded himself, or is this a fact? We'll know when moving day comes for the 'Spos, because he is the only conceivable reason they'd keep the Senators' return from happening. And if he has the clout to bar that from happening, (a) I'll have my fingers crossed for my hometown to get the team, and (b) I'll be wishing a thousand curses on Peter Angelos's house. At least may his greed and egomania be Expos-ed.

Somebody's wrong in this scenario, but one thing is for certain: Major League Baseball is handing at least one party a load of crap. Sorry to mix my sports metaphors, but that's par for the course.

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