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Baseball's Coming Back to Washington

For two wearying years, baseball officials flirted with Washington while courting other jurisdictions that were interested in hosting the Expos, including fast-growing Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Northern Virginia. In the end, it came down to the District and Loudon County, where Virginia officials proposed to build a stadium and a whole new town around it.

Virginia claimed that the area far eclipsed the District in terms of wealth and potential growth. In a written statement issued shortly after yesterday's announcement, Selig tacitly rejected that argument and acknowledged the District's dramatic transformation.

Former D.C. baseball announcer Charlie Brotman, center, leads a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with Mark Touhey, left, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Council, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Council members Jack Evans and Linda Cropp. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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"Washington, D.C., as our nation's capital, is one of the world's most important cities," Selig said. "There has been tremendous growth in the Washington DC area over the last 33 years and we in Major League Baseball believe that baseball will be welcomed there and will be a great success."

Yesterday, Virginia officials congratulated the District, saying the competition had always been friendly.

"I urge all Virginia baseball supporters and fans to give their full support to our region's new team," said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. "We must all put aside our differences and work together to make the Expos succeed."

A successful team is usually a winning team, however, and it may be a long time before Washington sees one of those. During 35 years in Montreal, the Expos have never won a World Series. They are now in last place in the National League's East Division, with 65 wins and 94 losses, and typically attract just a few thousand fans per game.

Last night, more than 31,000 people turned up to bid farewell to the Expos as they played their final game in Montreal. The score: Marlins 9, Expos 1.

"The sun is setting in Montreal, but it's rising in Washington," Expos President Tony Tavares told a news conference at Olympic Stadium. "To those of you in Washington, I say I look forward to seeing you down there."

Baseball bought the Expos two years ago for $120 million. Now that the team is moving to a city whose officials are offering to pay for a new stadium, baseball hopes to sell the franchise for more than $300 million.

The Washington Baseball Club is considered the early favorite. The group includes Jeff Zients, chairman of the Advisory Board Co., a Washington-based medical research firm; James V. Kimsey, co-founder of America Online; Frederic V. Malek, a former Nixon White House official who was part-owner of the Texas Rangers with President Bush; and Frankin D. Raines, a former Clinton administration official who heads Fannie Mae, one of the world's largest financial services companies.

But the club may face stiff competition.

Yesterday, New York real estate investor Mark Broxmeyer again said he intends to pursue the team with a group that he hopes will include such Republican heavyweights as Steve Forbes and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

An adviser to the group, called the Baseball Club of America, said many questions must be answered before the bidding begins.

"Just to say the team is going to Washington, that's great. Now you have to figure out who owns the team and do we have enough time between now and next season to put an ownership group together," said Sal Galatioto of the Lehman Brothers financial firm. Galatioto also worried that there's too little time to market the team and sign new players before the start of the 2005 season.

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