As Major League Baseball's latest self-imposed deadline for choosing a new home for the Montreal Expos nears, anxious would-be hosts are going to extraordinary lengths to divine the intentions of secretive baseball executives.
Yesterday, vaexpos.com caught their eye.
Ethan Orlinsky, senior vice president and general counsel of Major League Baseball Properties, registered the domain name last month. That caused Jerry Burkot, an executive with the investors group trying to draw a team to a new stadium near Dulles International Airport, to wax hopeful.
"Maybe it's an omen," he said yesterday after being told of the domain name's registration.
A Major League Baseball spokesman's response: Not so fast.
Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said yesterday that baseball attorneys registered vaexpos.com and mexicoexpos.com purely as a defensive measure so that baseball has access to the names if needed.
Levin said the attorneys are with MLB.com, which runs the sport's Web site, and with MLB Properties, which handles merchandising, licensing and trademarks. They are not associated with the relocation effort and have no knowledge of the workings of a committee that is looking at relocation sites for the Expos, Levin said.
"This has no bearing at all on the relocation effort," Levin said. "It doesn't mean anything."
Sites inspired by the other bidding cities -- the District, Las Vegas, Norfolk, and Portland, Ore. -- were already taken, Levin added.
Winston Lord, executive director of the D.C. group that hopes to buy the Expos, said he was not concerned.
"It's been a great omen that for years all the possible D.C. domain names have been taken. It shows the extent of the support," Lord said. DCexpos.com, for instance, was taken by a Whitestone, N.Y., man.
Lord said baseball was simply being prudent in trying to nab names, just as political candidates have sought to sit on most relevant registrations. "It's just like the Kerry campaign registering every possible domain name to cover their bases," Lord said.
Baseball President Robert DuPuy, who was unavailable for comment, met with Commissioner Bud Selig last week and said that the league is evaluating the candidate cities and has not narrowed its options. Baseball is not expected to make a decision on where to put the Expos until after next week's All-Star Game at the earliest, and as late as September.
Baseball-minded squatters have been busy laying at least temporary claim to the domain names of the Expos' possible homes.
"I had absolutely no scientific evidence to base it on," said William Creel, 46, a government employee in Chesapeake, Va., who owns Nevadaexpos.com, Arlingtonexpos.com and Norfolkexpos.org. The owner of Norfolkexpos.com called him in recent months to see whether Creel wanted to buy it.
"I'm a baseball fan. But I'm also a speculator of ways to try to make a living other than always working," Creel said, adding that he's been hearing he could be trumped by the actual team owners once the Expos move. "Everybody tells me I need to hire a patent attorney, but for a $7 investment I'm just going to wait and see what happens."
Major League Baseball officials have been in touch daily with all the groups heading the efforts in each area pulling for a team, baseball officials said.
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos opposes having a team in the Washington region, saying it would harm the value of his franchise. Selig has said he is reluctant to move a team too close to an existing franchise because it might dilute the fan base.
Vance Garnett, co-owner of Washingtonsenators.com, said the efforts to grab names are tardy, not to mention misguided.
"Let them take a whack at it," said Garnett, who got his name in the 1990s. "We've believed all along that baseball would come back to Washington and revert to a name that has 70 years' history to it."
"We're not Johnny-come-lately's," Garnett said.