Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, said yesterday he will meet with members of the Expos on Wednesday in Montreal and ask where they prefer to play next season.
Orza two weeks ago said the players' union might try to block MLB from again playing the Expos' 2004 home schedule in two cities. The Expos are playing 22 home games in Puerto Rico this season, and MLB officials have said as many as all 81 home games could be played there next season.
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The players' input, Orza said, will help the union determine its position in dealing with baseball on the fate of the Expos, who are owned by the other 29 teams. MLB officials are considering bids to relocate the Expos permanently to the District, Northern Virginia or Portland, Ore., for 2004.
"We've been reading about the players' thinking," Orza said in a telephone interview from his New York office.
"I want to talk to them face to face and ask them what they prefer: Playing all the [home] games in Washington, D.C., playing all games in San Juan, playing all games in Montreal, or playing a split home schedule between Montreal and San Juan with some adjustments."
All-star second baseman Jose Vidro has been one of the most outspoken players and Orza said he intends to find out how pervasive those feelings are.
"It's time for somebody to make a decision," Vidro recently told the Globe and Mail in Toronto, "because this thing's taking way too long. We're big leaguers, and we should be treated that way. It's time for them to give us a home.
"I don't care if it's Northern Virginia or Portland or Puerto Rico or even Montreal. It's time they told us that we're playing 81 games in one place."
The Expos are 54-52, but a 25-day trip in May and June, including six games in San Juan, covered more than 11,000 miles and produced an 8-14 record.
MLB president and chief operating officer Robert DuPuy said two weeks ago at the All-Star Game that MLB still would like to move the Expos for 2004.
However, no ballpark financing deal has been approved by any local jurisdiction. DuPuy said it would be possible to move the Expos next season if a stadium financing deal were in place by around Sept. 1 and other negotiations are completed by the end of the season.
Orza also expects MLB officials to seek another extension on providing the 2004 schedule to the union for approval, as mandated by the collection bargaining agreement. Orza previously granted a 30-day extension from the July 1 deadline.
"I expect I'm probably going to get a request for an additional extension and I'm going to give it to them," he said. "I don't believe that the principal driving force for the request is the status of the Montreal Expos and where they play next year."
DuPuy and other MLB officials did not respond to telephone messages left for them yesterday seeking comment.