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George Solomon

Rounding Third and Heading . . .

By George Solomon
Sunday, September 19, 2004; Page E02

The moment of truth appears to be near. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig reportedly has called a meeting of baseball's executive committee next week, of which O's owner Peter Angelos is a member, and likely will discuss the future of the Montreal Expos. He certainly isn't going to talk about the "Curse of the Bambino" or bullpen security in Oakland.

What will be on the agenda is that RFK Stadium is the only suitable site for the 2005 relocation of the Expos, who have been looking for a home since the league took control of them three years ago.

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen does a commercial for Under Armour athletic apparel company. (Photo Courtesy Of Warschawski Public Relations)

Selig's own relocation committee, headed by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, will recommend the team move to RFK Stadium as D.C. officials finalize a financing plan for a new stadium. Selig and an investment banking group handling the deal likely will sell the Expos to the highest bidder, with the Washington ownership group -- led by 37-year-old businessman Jeffrey Zients, political vet Fred Malek and Fannie Mae CEO Franklin D. Raines -- the favorite. Angelos's alleged shortfalls -- mostly in broadcast revenues -- also need to be addressed as part of the announcement to fend off any legal maneuvering he might try, crafty devil that he is.

If D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is straight with his promise that financing for the new stadium will not come from the general tax coffers, the seating of three new doubting council members in January, including Marion Barry, should not be that earth-shaking. But Tuesday's election moved the process along. Barry, by the way, was a strong advocate for baseball in D.C. on his first watch as mayor, lest he forget.

Nothing is certain when it comes to baseball in Washington, except that we've never been this close to regaining a team in the 33 years since the Senators fled to Texas. In baseball terms, if we had Mariano Rivera, the deal would be sealed.

Friedgen's Pitch

Whenever I see Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen give that rousing "We must protect this house; nobody beats us in our house" spiel on television in a commercial for Under Armour athletic apparel company, I get so worked up I whack my forearm against my Myer Emco TV stand.

Talk about good publicity for Friedgen, his recruiting efforts and Maryland. Here's the coach getting his players ready to defend his territory ("our house") against an invading horde with nothing else on its mind than stomping the Terrapins.

"It's pretty good, right?" Friedgen asked, before admitting "it isn't my speech. Under Armour wrote the script; very few of the lines are mine. I was acting. I usually don't yell like that. The players I'm talking to are pros, would-be pros and former pros. Under Armour saw me do a pregame talk on Fridge-TV (Jess Atkinson's interactive video network) and liked it. They came to me and said this was an opportunity for national exposure. They gave me an eight-paragraph speech. I practiced in front of my daughter (a theater major at Maryland). I messed up a few times and she got on me before I got it."

Under Armour is a up-and-coming Baltimore-based company founded in 1996 by former Maryland football player Kevin Plank with lofty goals of competing against such sportswear giants as Nike and Reebok by specializing in "microfiber fabrics for every climate." The company will do upwards of $100 million in sales this year. With Plank leading the way, the company has forged a business relationship with Maryland athletics that resulted in its outfitting all its teams, as well as selling many of the same products to fans and contributing $200,000 to Friedgen's $1.5 million salary.

"It was a unique opportunity for us," Athletic Director Debbie Yow explained of the Under Armour deal. "They service our teams exclusively, as well as paying the cost for Ralph's commercial." Yow added all was "cleared" by the NCAA.

And who wrote Friedgen's stirring speech?

It was Steve Battista, directing of marketing for Under Armour, who said he studied the coach's speeches off the videos and turned "Ralph's best" lines into the commercial. "Companies have been asking us for copies for sales meetings," Battista said. And did Battista help Friedgen on Saturday? "No, that was all me," Friedgen said. "No acting."

Extra Points

The regular season debut of Joe Gibbs at FedEx Field last Sunday drew a legitimate 90,098 fans to see the Redskins beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's the largest crowd to see the Redskins in their eight years at their ever-expanding Landover stadium. Parking lots began filling up with tailgaters by 9 a.m. and by the 1:05 kickoff, most seats were filled, including the seldom-occupied yellow club seats. Two hours after the game, there were still cars in the parking lots and bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads. Two new Metro stations within walking distance to the stadium are to open near the end of the season and will be most welcome if Metro doesn't botch it by running four-car trains every 30 minutes. . . .

Though Clinton Portis had a great game, he isn't big enough to run 29 times, as he did against Tampa Bay. Impressed with Joe Bugel's work with the offensive line; what a difference from last year, huh? However, center Lennie Friedman and backup Cory Raymer might want to work on perfecting their snaps to quarterback Mark Brunell, who, as Gibbs noted, showed his mettle bouncing back from a costly fumble that led to Tampa Bay's only touchdown. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles needs to get the ball more. . . .

If would-be baseball owner Jeffrey Zients came into our life like a bolt of lightning, what about middle linebacker Antonio Pierce? This is his fourth season in Washington. Who knew? Keep him around. Same with rookie H-back Chris Cooley. . . .

The Gregg Williams-coached defense kept the Bucs' offense out of the end zone, which isn't the same as stopping the Rams for four quarters. But it's pretty good. Front four was solid, LaVar and Marcus Washington very good on the outside, with safety Matt Bowen enjoying a career game and Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs okay on the corners. Rookie phenom Sean Taylor must have upset someone of authority because he didn't play much. . . .

Former NFL referee Larry Hill, hired by Gibbs as a consultant to tell him from the press box when to challenge calls, needs to be more proactive. Twice Gibbs could have challenged but did not, including that botched Brunell spot that might have cost the Redskins four points. Pick it up, Larry.

Game today against dysfunctional Giants.

Have an opinion, or question? Reach me at talkback@washpost.com. Reservations accepted here for celebration at Zola, if D.C. gets Expos.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company