Montreal Expos players yesterday conditionally acceded to Major League Baseball's request to reconsider playing a second season of home games in two cities, according to Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the MLB Players Association.
"They're willing to consider, under the right circumstances, another split" home schedule, Orza said after meeting with them before the Expos began their final six of 22 home games this season in Puerto Rico. "But it has to be the same number of games like this year and it has to have much, much better travel conditions and other things that we have to discuss [with MLB]. But they have not ruled it out completely, either Puerto Rico or Monterrey [Mexico]."
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In a previous meeting with Orza, the union's No. 2 executive, the players said they wanted to play all 81 of their home games at one venue, with no preference as to that site.
The players' decision yesterday put Monterrey squarely into the mix as a temporary option to the Expos' fiscal problems in Montreal while MLB pursues a permanent home for the team. An announcement officially scuttling relocation for the Expos in 2004 is unlikely for at least another two weeks.
"Monterrey has made an aggressive and attractive proposal for all or part of next season which we are reviewing," said Robert DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer. Despite the players' earlier decision, he has maintained that another split schedule is "a distinct possibility." He said last night he continues discussions with the union.
Monterrey has offered to renovate player facilities at its 27,000-seat ballpark that opened in 1991 whether MLB chooses to award either 22 games or a full home schedule, according to Eric Stern, director of the bid led by Monterrey financier Carlos Bremer.
Antonio Muñoz Sr., leader of the Puerto Rico bid, has told MLB he would make requested facilities improvements only if awarded at least 36 games, he confirmed earlier this week. Muñoz did not respond to a telephone message yesterday.
Monterrey is located in central Mexico about 150 miles south of the U.S. border. Its metro area has a population of 3.8 million and statistically is one of the country's most prosperous, safest cities. Mexico's three largest companies are headquartered there, as well as the Mexican or Latin American headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T.
"We are optimistic because [MLB's] obviously taken a very keen interest in the city," Stern said. "Given that we know on the merits that Monterrey is far and away the best option, any close examination by baseball will flow into a positive result. The facts speak for themselves. . . . It's an opportunity to have an audition for more long-term residence."