Just a few floors above the USO gala and the meeting of the National Italian American Foundation, Tony Tavares' cell phone rings constantly, still occasionally alerting him to calls by chiming an electronic version of "O Canada!"
A generic suite at the Washington Hilton is, for now, the epicenter of the District's return to Major League Baseball. Tavares, president of the Montreal Expos, arrived in town with his right-hand man, Kevin Uhlich, just Tuesday night, and spent Wednesday and yesterday beginning to figure out the logistics of bringing baseball back to the nation's capital.
"It's not much of an operation," Tavares said. "It's a couple of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off."
The $440 million stadium deal to bring the Expos to Washington still faces what could be a contentious approval process by the D.C. Council, but with spring training less than four months away, Tavares said there is too much to do for the team to wait. So he has established a two-man beachhead, consisting of the Expos' only employees in D.C., and started on a seemingly endless checklist of tasks, even though no one knows what the team will be called or who will own it.
"There's a whole bunch of A-list priorities," Tavares said. "Which one is more important is in the eye of the beholder somewhat."
None is more important at the moment, though, than selecting a company that will help the team sell tickets. Uhlich, who ran the business operation under Tavares when both were with the Anaheim Angels, said that process usually takes weeks or months. "We're going to do it in days," he said. By the middle of next week, Uhlich said, he would like to select a distributor -- Uhlich and Tavares met with both Ticketmaster and Tickets.com -- and begin gathering names of potential ticket buyers within 10 days.
Uhlich, who officially is serving as an outside consultant for the Expos, and Tavares visited RFK Stadium, where the team is scheduled to spend its first three years, and they'll return today. They met with a local consulting firm to determine public relations strategies. They are in the process of securing trailers -- "Let's call them 'modular offices,' " Uhlich said -- so the team's operation can be set up at RFK, but they also will rent space downtown. Food service and concessionaires, broadcasters and corporate sales representatives. All were on the agenda in a wild first 48 hours.
"I apologize for not being more organized," Tavares said, "but this is a very disorganized situation right now."
The situation is fraught with potential hurdles. When MLB granted the Expos to the District last month, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) enthusiastically said baseball's return to the nation's capital was "rounding third and heading for home." Those final 90 feet could prove difficult.
The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the stadium package Oct. 28 and possibly take a first vote Nov. 9. Supporters want to get the plan approved before three anti-stadium candidates who are expected to win election to the council on Nov. 2 take office. The three, including former mayor Marion Barry, are among critics who argue that the new taxes that will fund the waterfront ballpark in Southeast would be better spent on other needs, such as schools or a hospital.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is among the council members who have expressed concerns about the deal, said he was surprised the Expos had staff already in Washington. "I don't think we have a done deal," he said. "I appreciate their eagerness, but don't think we're there. We have many a question."
A dozen protesters demonstrated yesterday under the arch in Chinatown, passing out fliers and talking to passers-by about their opposition to using public money to fund the stadium. Members of the group, called No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, wore catcher's masks, held signs and spoke through a loudspeaker.
Stadium supporters fired back yesterday by recruiting baseball fans to contact the council and express support for the deal. The Washington Baseball Club, a local group that hopes to purchase the Expos, spearheaded that effort. With approval from city officials, the club sent an e-mail to more than 15,000 people who have contacted them seeking information about the team.
The e-mail invites recipients to copy one of two form letters -- one for D.C. residents and one for baseball fans who live outside the city -- and forward it to council members. As of late yesterday, the club's executive director, Winston Lord, said more than 3,000 people had done so. Some council members said their electronic mailboxes were flooded with the missives.
Council member Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), one of the most vociferous critics of the plan, said most of the 200 to 300 e-mails he received were sent by residents of Virginia and Maryland. Among them: one purportedly from Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who for years tried to block D.C. from getting a team, arguing that it would cripple the Orioles financially.
In a telephone interview, Angelos said a prankster must have signed his name to the letter. "I don't even know how to do an e-mail," Angelos said. He would not say whether he and baseball officials have concluded their negotiations over a financial package to compensate him for any losses caused by the Expos' arrival.
In the middle of it all is the 55-year-old Tavares, who ran the Angels and hockey's Anaheim Mighty Ducks for nine years before taking over the Expos in 2002. He said he couldn't get involved in those issues.
"I promise you I will not get into a political discussion with . . . anyone on this subject," he said. "I'll just absolutely refuse. I'm a baseball guy first and foremost. We are here to fulfill baseball's promise of delivering a baseball team to Washington."
Tavares said he will concentrate on making sure the team -- currently owned by the other 29 major league clubs -- is in good working order when it is sold, which may not happen before the start of next season.
"We're trying to limit our invasiveness to the types of things that a new owner would like to be involved with," Tavares said. "I cannot tell you when a new owner's going to be here. . . . It's my job to make sure that baseball's up and running, and a new owner has a staff that can function into next season."
To that end, Tavares and Uhlich will today meet with members of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which runs RFK Stadium. The team will have a budget of $13 million to prepare the facility for the 2005 season.
"That doesn't go a long way," Uhlich said.
Uhlich oversaw the renovation of Angel Stadium of Anaheim -- as well as that club's spring training facility. RFK hasn't been a full-time baseball home since the Washington Senators left for Texas in 1971. But both men said the facility wasn't as bad as they expected. They will have to move walls to create more spacious locker rooms, a manager's office and a video room, and that process must begin soon. But they believe the facility will be fine until the new ballpark -- which, under the plan agreed to by baseball and the District, would open in 2008 -- is ready.
"This is more like redoing your kitchen than ripping it out," Tavares said.
Though almost all the players are under contract, Tavares needs to hire a general manager, who will in turn hire a field manager. Tavares said he can't bring front-office staff from Montreal because they can't obtain U.S. visas. So the workforce of between 40 and 50 people will be hired locally.
"It's like starting from scratch," he said.
Staff writers Lori Montgomery and David Nakamura contributed to this report.