If yesterday's audacious move by the organizers of Virginia's bid for a baseball team pans out, June 2004 will go down in history as the beginning of the Dulles-Loudoun area's secession from the Washington region.
There was plenty of spin on the ball, as Loudoun supervisors, corporate chieftains, real estate developers and assorted other boosters gathered near the proposed site of a baseball stadium to throw their -- mixing sports metaphors here -- Hail Mary pass to Major League Baseball.
The very same strategists who a year ago said Arlington -- with its fine transit system, spectacular view of the Mall and central location -- was the ideal spot for a stadium now say that our only shot at baseball is out at Dulles Airport, ceding Maryland and Washington to the Baltimore Orioles.
The message is clearly aimed at Orioles owner Peter Angelos and other owners who buy his notion that the O's will die if Washington gets a team.
Message: A Virginia team would be purely a Virginia team. "Montgomery and Prince George's counties are part of the Orioles' market," said James Curren, vice president of Trans Core, a Springfield company that conducted traffic studies for Virginia's stadium authority. "People in the District are more apt to go to Baltimore."
Curren said Major League Baseball is only interested in those who live within a 60-minute drive of the ballpark, and Curren's studies found that virtually all of Maryland and the District lie outside the 60-minute zone during rush hours, as do Alexandria, parts of Arlington and much of eastern Fairfax.
"Absolutely," said Virginia Baseball Club owner Bill Collins when I asked if Montgomery, Prince George's and the District are Orioles territory. "Large parts of Montgomery and pretty much all of Prince Georges." Collins says his projections show that less than 10 percent of fans going to a Loudoun stadium would come from Maryland, and only 4 percent from Washington.
To make the message perfectly clear, Collins said that if baseball sends the Montreal Expos our way, the team will be called the Virginia Somethings, not the Washington Anythings.
This amazing turn in the baseball wars is far more than spin aimed at the Orioles' prickly owner. It is a bold statement by the fastest-growing county in the nation that it is prepared to turn its back on the rest of the region and make its own way. This was a far cry from the Internet boom days, when Dulles Corridor executives made a point of acting in concert with their counterparts in the District on civic, social and political matters.
Not a soul from the Fairfax County government was at yesterday's announcement, even though a good slugger could hit a baseball from the stadium site across the county line into Fairfax. Not once was the word "Washington" mentioned in an hour-long news conference. Even the phrase "National Capital Region," formerly essential to the Virginia bid's sloganeering, was uttered only once.
Instead, there were countless references to Loudoun's "superior demographics" ("Young, Educated, Wealthy, with Entertainment Dollars," the press kit enthuses), to corporate citizens who would snarf up luxury skyboxes, to the county's "safe," "family-oriented" atmosphere.
Scott York, chairman of Loudoun's Board of Supervisors, touted the county's "$150,000 average income" and told me that a Loudoun team's market "is Northern Virginia, south on I-95, and a lot of fans from Clarke County and West Virginia." That's west and south, away from Washington.
(York and most of the Loudoun board are suddenly fans of the proposed stadium and town center at the Dulles Toll Road and Route 28. A year ago, York said that was "not a promising location. . . . The Arlington site is much better. . . . It has the rail stop near it, which is critical to its success, and is more central to the population.")
Baseball has a few weeks to choose between Washington and Virginia. Baseball must decide whether to follow the successes of other downtown ballparks or take on the traffic nightmares of a suburban stadium. Baseball must decide whether to use Washington to address the sport's declining following among black Americans or continue to avoid the issue. (Of 236 people at the Loudoun event, exactly two were black.)
Baseball must decide whether it wants to make a lot of money in the nation's fourth-largest market or stay loyal to one owner who has driven a great franchise into the ground.