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With a Light Touch, Heavy Hitters Pursue D.C. Team

At first, the group lobbied baseball directly for the Expos, Raines said. But then Selig let it be known that he wanted to deal exclusively with public officials willing to finance a new ballpark with public funds. So the club faded into the woodwork, a decision that didn't sit well with some D.C. fans. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) complained last year that the group had failed to make full use of its influence. But Porter said they were just "following the rules that MLB set down."

"This is not a particularly flamboyant group," Raines said. "If they want somebody who's flamboyant, they ought to pick somebody else."


Jeffrey Zients is president and CEO of the Washington Baseball Club. (Susan Biddle - The Washington Post)

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The club's lack of flash was on full display when it picked Zients to be president. For a rich guy, Zients has maintained a remarkably low profile. There have been no glowing stories in the national business journals. He's doesn't show up in any of the who's who directories. He goes to work in khakis and casual, if starched, shirts.

Zients said his presidential persona would be shaped by the same qualities that he and Bradley used to build a business: "You hire great people, give them autonomy and keep as low a profile as possible."

Zients grew up in Kensington. He was never much of an athlete but loved sports. In addition to collecting baseball cards, he was sports editor at the St. Albans News. He studied political science at Duke University, and then went to work in Boston. He came home to the District in the early 1990s, after Bradley asked him to help run the Advisory Board Co., which rewrote the model for management consulting.

Last month, Zients announced that he would step down as chairman of the Advisory Board Co. to focus on baseball.

"In the first three, four, five years, this will be an amazing business sprint," he said, eyes narrowing at the thought of putting together a "great product, a great business," a winning baseball team. "I have this desire from way back to have baseball in D.C."

Unlike some of his partners, Zients betrays no sense of frustration. In his calm, unassuming way, he's all business, ready to go.

Who will manage the team? The Expos already have "a strong manager and a strong general manager," he said.

Is he worried about a rival bid to put a team near Dulles in Northern Virginia? "No," he said. "It's just too far."

What about a name? "I think we'll leave it up to the fans," he said.

"I have no fatigue," Zients said. "We want baseball today. We want baseball yesterday. In the grand scheme of how important this is, days or weeks don't really matter."


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