All the Signs Say the Expos Belong Here
By Marc Fisher
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page C01
While waiting for the puff of smoke to rise from Major League Baseball's inner sanctum on New York's Park Avenue, Maryland and Virginia are busy demonstrating the natural rivalry between the states.
First, the forces advocating that the Montreal Expos move to Loudoun County decided to forsake Maryland and the District and sell baseball on a site that would draw almost entirely from the nation's largest state without a pro sports team. (Subtext: A team two hours from Baltimore would make your Peter Angelos problem much easier to solve.)
Now, the Montgomery County Council, properly taking offense at Virginia's decision to cede the Maryland suburbs to Angelos's Orioles Country, has come out in unanimous support of the District's bid for the Expos. From Montgomery's perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, about five times as many people are within an hour of Washington on a congested weeknight as could reach the Dulles site.
Will intra-regional bickering repel the already-jittery moguls of baseball? It shouldn't: Rather, the tiff between Virginia baseball boosters and fans across the Potomac should give Commissioner Bud Selig a taste of the competition that could fill stadiums in both Washington and Baltimore.
As the days tick by before baseball's relocation committee issues its report, ancient criticisms of this area surface again. Washington's a lousy sports town, some say. There's no tradition of support for baseball. A majority-black city won't come out for baseball.
Hogwash. You can make a case that Washington sports teams are just plain no good, but the amazing thing about this place is that the fans come out anyway. Look at the stats: In the past year, the Redskins, WNBA Mystics and Freedom (women's soccer) each led their leagues in attendance -- by a lot. The Wizards and Capitals, lousy as ever, were in the bottom half of their leagues in attendance, but both were barely under their league averages. The area's three minor league baseball teams are all solid performers, drawing at their league averages (Potomac Cannons) or well above (Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox).
Both the D.C. and Virginia groups vying for the Expos hammer home the point that this region has tripled in population since the Senators last skipped town and that Washington is, by leaps and bounds, the most-affluent and best-educated market without baseball. (And, of course, one of the nation's top tourist destinations.)
This is not the transient region it is reputed to be, but is as stable as any U.S. metropolis. According to the Census Bureau, 20 percent of Americans have moved in the past 15 months, while 10 percent have stayed in the same house for 30 or more years. Washington is at the national average, with a population that's 23 percent movers and 11 percent stayers. Virginia and Maryland are within a couple of points of the average. Compare that with transient states such as Arizona (27 percent movers, 4 percent stayers), Colorado (26-5) and Nevada (30-2).
"It's a no-brainer," says sports historian Frank Ceresi, a former family court judge in Arlington and author of "Baseball in Washington, D.C." "The Senators were a pretty good draw, and this has always been a strong sports town. In what other city would you find a phenomenon like Washington Redskins who haven't played in 35 years being among the most popular figures in town?"
Washington offers baseball a chance to capitalize on its history and reach out to black fans who have turned away from the game in recent years. Christopher Rehling, an educator at the Close-Up Foundation in Alexandria, has launched a campaign at rememberthegrays.org pushing for our Expos to be renamed for the Homestead Grays, the Negro League team that often outdrew the Senators during the Grays' heyday in the 1940s.
"This isn't only the right thing to do to remember the history," Rehling says, "but it's a smart business move for baseball."
"There is a great history here that not many people know about," says Brad Snyder, author of "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators," the story of the greatest team the Negro Leagues produced. "There'd be no better way for baseball to connect with the black and Hispanic communities than to tap into that tradition."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company