The cheerleaders behind Northern Virginia's bid for a Major League Baseball team want to focus attention on the wealthy and fast-growing population living near their proposed suburban ballpark.
Yesterday, that rah-rah strategy ran afoul of another of the region's suburban heavy hitters: Montgomery County.
Citing historic, sentimental and cultural ties to baseball in the nation's capital, the Montgomery County Council threw its symbolic support behind Northern Virginia's rival and unanimously called on major league executives to return a team to the District. They faxed their resolution to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who was in Houston for last night's All-Star Game.
Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda), who sponsored the measure, cited the memory of Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter "Big Train" Johnson, who served two terms on the Montgomery County Commission, the forerunner of the council, as an example of the area's kinship to the game.
Moreover, Denis said, Northern Virginia boosters have taken their rhetoric about the benefits of their Loudoun County site too far.
"There seemed to be an undercurrent of negative feeling towards the nation's capital," said Denis, who said he could not recall any examples. "They seemed to feel that they didn't want us and didn't want us to come there. That hit me the wrong way."
Virginia backers bristled at that characterization.
"We don't want anybody to get the impression that any resident of the national capital area isn't going to be a welcome fan of the Expos franchise," said Brian Hannigan, a spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, the agency responsible for building the stadium in the commonwealth.
"I think people are looking at the facts and making them personal, and I think that's unfortunate," added Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac).
The back-and-forth on baseball is part of a larger sense of rivalry between the two areas on opposite sides of the Potomac. Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs such as Montgomery have long sparred over matters of regional importance -- everything from land-use policies to transportation solutions.
Virginians soured Marylanders by sending mixed messages about one of their bid's most distinctive, and they hope salable, features: distance.
At a rally last month, Virginia supporters handed out maps showing that most of the District and Maryland were more than an hour's drive from a Dulles ballpark at rush hour.
"The people here in Northern Virginia are predominantly younger families with the highest average household income in the nation," said William Collins III, head of an investors group that hopes to bring the team to Northern Virginia. He called the prospective fan base "a franchise marketer's dream."
That triumphal view irked backers of the District's bid.
Virginia boosters said efforts to locate the team in the suburbs 20 miles west of the District were intended not as a snub to closer-in communities, but part of a strategy to counter Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has argued that a team in the Washington region would sap his revenue.
Within days of making a case that seemed to dismiss much of the region, Northern Virginia retooled its message a bit. Supporters released a new map showing that most of the District and a wide swath of affluent Montgomery was within an hour's drive of their stadium at rush hour, and thus in their market area.
The difference? The earlier map showed a commute from 5 to 6 p.m. The second analysis covered 6 to 7 p.m.