Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) dismisses the cross-Potomac chest-thumping and hand-wringing over competing bids for a Major League Baseball team as drivel.
Since he first got a tip in the early 1990s that baseball was in the market for a new home town, the former Washington Senators season ticket holder has pushed Northern Virginia as the natural choice, even though baseball officials back then had barely heard of the place.
But now, with baseball officials promising a decision soon on where the ailing Montreal Expos will play next season, the man who would have happily ditched politics for major league ball -- but for what he dubs his proven "talent gap" -- is making another thing clear. Despite dueling threats from some in the District and Virginia, Davis said he and his colleagues wouldn't allow partisans on either side to stop the game he's loved since he was 7 from returning to the region.
"I'd rather have it go to Virginia than D.C., but I'd rather have it go to D.C. than anywhere else," said Davis, who's the kind of fan who tries to book his congressional travel around baseball schedules.
He cut out from the Republican National Convention in New York last week to watch the Yankees get shellacked 22 to 0 by the Cleveland Indians. "We're not going to block anybody. We're going to make sure it happens," Davis said.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) warned in fiery, at times mocking, remarks last month that the District could pass legislation preventing the Expos from moving to temporary quarters at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium if Virginia wins the team.
Davis called Evans's statements self-serving political demagoguery.
"Congress could overrule something like that in a heartbeat," said Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee.
Some Virginia baseball backers have cited that same power imbalance. "Virginia's got 11 votes in the House; D.C.'s got no votes in the House," said lobbyist and former congressional aide Mike Scanlon, a member of the Virginia Baseball Club, an investment group that hopes to buy the team.
Scanlon said Congress could block the District's plan to finance a new downtown ballpark. He said Davis and others "would probably not let that go through."
Davis said such comments, like those from Evans, are wrong.
"What's it get you to say that? It's like throwing a tantrum," Davis said. "I have not tried to leverage my position to hurt the city, which could easily be done."
Davis said he has assured baseball officials that if the District beats competitors in Loudoun County, Norfolk, Las Vegas and elsewhere, Congress would act quickly on granting the borrowing power needed to build a stadium.
"I've had to tell baseball, on some of the legislation they'd need, that we'd move expeditiously," Davis said. "We'll move it through."
Davis saves his barbs, and sarcasm, for Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos -- who opposes putting a team in the District or Northern Virginia -- and his sometimes struggling team.
"My number one goal has been to bring Major League Baseball to Baltimore," Davis said. "That doesn't seem to be happening."
Davis said one of his key messages to Major League Baseball -- that it would be unwise to bypass the Washington region as part of a deal with Angelos -- should help both the District and Northern Virginia, which is proposing a ballpark beside Dulles International Airport.
"There may be repercussions if you bypass the Washington region," Davis said, noting that baseball "understands everything involved," namely baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws. It's that exemption that allows Commissioner Bud Selig and fellow owners to control where teams move, just the kind of clout that helped leave the region without a team since the Senators left in 1971.
"We're not in the mode to be threatening baseball," Davis said. "We're in the mode to make nice and try to get a team."
Davis said he believes the Angelos question weighs more heavily on Selig than it does on baseball's search committee, which has been leading negotiations with local officials. Dulles's distance from Camden Yards helps Virginia's efforts, Davis said.
Northern Virginia's proposal for a 450-acre ballpark-themed development was scaled back sharply. Developers submitted what they called initial plans for a project on about 87 acres last week.
"As long as it works, the answer is, 'Who cares?' " Davis said, arguing that a host of similar "technical issues" besetting both bids can be dealt with once a team is awarded. Of course, baseball could be an economic plus for the region and a definite plus to Davis's baseball routine.
"Maryland has the Redskins. D.C. has the Capitals and the Wizards. If Virginia gets something, it isn't like we're being pigs," he said.
Davis, 55, still takes batting practice. Although he wasn't good enough to play in high school, he did manage a five-year hitting streak on a congressional team. A few weeks ago, playing around with the family cache of 100 balls, he recalls driving one "well over the 350-foot mark."
"I hit like a 45-year-old," Davis said.