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Va. Group's Big-League Dreams Hinge on Luring Team

"The streets are of similar size, dimension and character to streets in large American cities, like New York and Washington, D.C.," according to the proposal. Towering jets of water, modeled on the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, would pulsate in choreographed bursts, adding "an interesting and playful conversation piece to the lake."

The neighborhood fan base and a commercial development surrounding the new ballpark would strengthen the team and make it a bigger revenue generator for Major League Baseball, Collins said. "You put a $3 billion or $4 billion project around it, it generates people. It generates business," Collins said.

William L. Collins III, leader of the Virginia Baseball Club, speaks at the Babe Ruth World Series banquet at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville. (Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)

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Partner and lobbyist Michael Scanlon, who shares Collins's history of working for Republican officials in Washington, sees comparisons with Walt Disney, who tapped the broader economic magic of Disney World by developing multiple ventures in the Orlando area.

"He's making money on the hotels and the restaurants. He's got more money to spend on Disney World because of it," Scanlon said.

"That's the exact model, in a sense, that we're talking about here. The owners of the team will benefit. We're the ones who have to write the checks to the ballplayers," Scanlon said, adding that baseball will be "the sun that gets the solar system spinning."

Collins, for example, is planning to build a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course two miles from the ballpark. The corporate-oriented course, called Bear National, would draw customers from -- and direct them to -- the stadium's line of luxury suites, Collins said. Such synergies would reach far beyond the fairway, Collins said.

It took years of failure to perfect this latest strategy. And it began, Collins remembers, over beer.

Collins asked a group of buddies and business associates what they thought of trying to fill the void left when the Washington Senators abandoned the nation's capital for the second time in 1971 and moved to Texas. It was 1992.

"Everyone jumped on it. That's when we decided," Collins said. "So we bought two clubs."

They ran the Greensboro Bats, a minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees, and the Michigan Battle Cats, affiliate of the Houston Astros, both for on-the-job management training and to build relationships with the major league owners who might eventually sell their teams, or sit in judgment of another move.

Collins, a native Washingtonian who has lived in each of the city's quadrants, said his nascent group considered trying to bring a team to the District in the early 1990s but was soon dissuaded by the city's financial woes and regional demographic trends.

Then, in 1994, things got hot.

Major League Baseball was expanding by two teams, and Collins first formed an investment group to raise the needed cash.

Collins and others traveled to an airport hotel in Chicago to meet the owners on baseball's expansion committee.

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