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Many Locales Are Willing to Take D.C.'s Place

Las Vegas, Norfolk, Portland and Monterrey Keeping Eye on MLB's Next Move

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page A19

In places where the dream of a baseball team was thought to be gone forever or merely put on hold for the time being -- places such as Montreal, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico -- there is now the faintest glimmer of hope, in the wake of this week's upheaval within Major League Baseball's plan to move the Montreal Expos to Washington.

City officials and leading baseball-backers in all of those municipalities expressed varying degrees of willingness and readiness yesterday to adopt the newly named Nationals should the D.C. Council and MLB fail to reach agreement on a stadium financing plan before Dec. 31. "Let me put it this way: I wish Washington, D.C., only well," said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. "I hope they are successful in accomplishing whatever they desire. But my position is that Las Vegas is ready for Major League Baseball."

Baseball fans in Portland, Ore., have a reason to smile if they'd like a major league upgrade to their Class AAA Beavers. (John Gress -- AP)

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"We're not chortling over Washington's difficulties," said Stephen Kanter, president of the Portland Baseball Group. "But we remain interested, and continue to believe we are a viable solution for baseball. We are watching."

An MLB official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the league already has been contacted by four cities interested in acquiring the franchise. The official would not name those cities, but said they were "the usual suspects." None of the city officials or baseball proponents interviewed for this story said they had contacted MLB.

Baseball praised the competing bids from Las Vegas, Portland, Norfolk and Monterrey -- four of the finalists -- when announcing on Sept. 29 its choice of Washington as the new home of the Montreal Expos. And representatives from those cities said yesterday that they theoretically could be prepared to house the franchise by Opening Day 2005.

"We would have to accelerate everything," said Carlos Bremer, a business executive who heads the group seeking a team for Monterrey, where it would play in the 27,000-seat Estadio Monterrey. "But we can still do it in a good way."

Before announcing Washington as its choice, baseball officials also discussed moving the franchise to northern New Jersey and worked with a group of investors there on a relocation plan that would have moved the team into a region currently shared by the New York Yankees and New York Mets. George Zoffinger, the president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

Montreal, where the franchise was born in 1969, seems an unlikely destination.

Claude Delorme, the Nationals' executive vice president for business affairs and the man in charge of dissolving the franchise's Montreal operations, said yesterday that process was "80 percent through."

A source with knowledge of the Montreal operation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the potential that the team might return next season, "Is it doable? Yes. Is it realistic? Not really."

Moving the team to Portland, Monterrey or Las Vegas would also require either a realignment of baseball's divisional structure -- since the Nationals would play in the National League East, with a majority of its games against east-coast teams -- or a drastic rewriting of the 2005 schedule, which has already been released.

"It wouldn't be pretty, but it wouldn't be impossible," said Katy Feeney, MLB's senior vice president for scheduling and club relations. "You would end up with several doubleheaders, and you would have to move some individual games. There would be some ugly travel situations for some teams in some instances."

There are also unresolved stadium and political issues in some of the interested municipalities. In Portland, for instance, baseball proponents are about to lose a three-term pro-stadium mayor -- Vera Katz -- who helped craft a $350 million stadium proposal that was unveiled in August. Katz will be replaced in January by mayor-elect, Tom Potter, who has gone on record as saying baseball should not be a priority for the city.

In Norfolk, the primary obstacle would be securing and expanding Harbor Park -- where the New York Mets' Class AAA affiliate now resides -- by April, something the head of the city's baseball group acknowledged would be "tough to do."

"I'll be honest: This late in the game, just because time is so short, I don't know if it could be ready," said Will Somerindyke Jr., who heads the Norfolk Baseball Company. "We have a wonderful facility here that can be expanded. But we also have a Triple-A team there."

Las Vegas's ongoing bid for a major league team has gained momentum in recent weeks, especially when Goodman made a highly publicized visit to baseball's winter meetings last weekend, parading through the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott accompanied by two showgirls and an Elvis impersonator.

However, Las Vegas has its own stadium issues.

Neither of the options in the city -- Cashman Field, where the Los Angeles Dodgers' AAA team currently plays, or the University of Nevada at Las Vegas football stadium -- were deemed worthy enough to have been included in the city's proposal to MLB. According to a source familiar with that proposal, the Las Vegas group proposed playing in Monterrey until a new stadium could be constructed one block off the famed Las Vegas Strip.

Goodman claims he was told by baseball officials that Las Vegas is "next in line" for a franchise, although that could not be verified. Asked if he believed that meant his city would be "next in line" for the Nationals should the deal in Washington fall through, Goodman replied: "I'm not going there."

Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company