They have convinced themselves. They have convinced investors to commit more than $200 million combined. Today in New York, the organizers of Metropolitan Washington Baseball and Capital Region Baseball will attempt to convince the National League Expansion Committee that Washington should be awarded one of the two franchises the NL will add in 1993.
Each group will make a presentation to the committee, composed of the Pirates' Douglas Danforth (its chairman), NL President Bill White, the Astros' John McMullen and the Mets' Fred Wilpon.
"It's the kind of day we've been looking for," said Washington developer John Akridge, whose Metropolitan Washington Baseball would like to locate a team permanently at RFK Stadium. "Up to now, there's been a lot of jockeying for position. I see this as the gun going off. This is when we have to run the race."
"We're anxious to get our day before the committee," said Northern Virginia developer Mark Tracz, whose Capital Region Baseball is seeking a team that would begin playing at RFK Stadium, then move to a facility in Northern Virginia. "Spring training is over. This is like Opening Day in September."
Washington's competing groups are among 18 representing 10 cities that answered a detailed questionnaire and made a $100,000 deposit on the $95 million entry fee. Groups from Denver, Buffalo, Miami and Sacramento, Calif., made their presentations yesterday. In addition to Washington's groups, those from Orlando, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville are scheduled for today. The groups from Tampa-St. Petersburg and Phoenix will go before the committee Sept. 28.
The committee is expected to reduce the field to four or five finalists by the end of the year, then visit those cities during the first quarter of 1991. It is scheduled to make recommendations to the Major League Executive Council, NL owners and the Major League Ownership Committee at the June ownership meetings. The franchises are likely to be awarded in late summer or early fall. Nine of the 12 NL teams and eight of the 14 AL teams must approve the cities.
Danforth said last week he "suspects" Washington's groups will use today's forum to address the issues of stadium arrangements, why the city's two previous teams left and how demographic changes in the area indicate it would be able to support a team this time.
The Orioles also are a factor, even though owner Eli Jacobs has said the club would remain "neutral" on expansion and would not vote to block Washington if theirs was the deciding vote. Owners are reluctant to do things they believe would harm existing franchises. The Orioles say they draw about 20 to 25 percent of their attendance and up to a third of their television and radio audiences from the Washington area. And in 1992, they will be moving south to a new stadium in Camden Yards. The move is expected to bring the club about 15 to 20 minutes closer to Washington-area fans, who currently must drive into Baltimore to reach Memorial Stadium.
Danforth said the committee also will be looking to find out more about the groups' financial projections, their investors and their public support.
Late Monday, Tracz's group received a unanimously approved resolution of support from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Board chairwoman Audrey Moore also is a member of the D.C. Baseball Commission, which has voted unanimously to support Akridge's group. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) has written a letter supporting Tracz's group to NL President White, one of Warner's assistants Grayson Winterling said yesterday. Tracz's group met with Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder yesterday.
Both groups say they are confident of success.
"I feel terrific," Akridge said. "We're going to win. Washington is going to get baseball. Maybe I've sold myself, but not only are we not third and not second, I think we are the leading candidate."
He will appear before the committee with two people who have been helping him organize the group -- Sovran Bank President Robert Pincus and Donald Dell, chairman of the board of the Arlington-based sports marketing and management firm ProServ -- and two people who have been advising it -- Terry Miller, director of sports architecture for the firm HNTB, and Jack Haeseler of Economics Research Associates' Vienna office.
Akridge said he and Miller, whose firm has been developing plans for a $30 million refurbishment of RFK Stadium, will make the formal part of the presentation. It is to include displays of drawings and a model of what RFK Stadium would look like for baseball. Pincus, a longtime member of the D.C. Baseball Commisssion, will handle history questions, Dell marketing questions and Haeseler economic questions.
Akridge declined to talk about specific points of his group's presentation, but said they are "absolutely" ready to address the issues Danforth mentioned.
"Once you see the answers, you'll be convinced," Akridge said. "We even have a positive answer to the fact that two teams have left before."
Tracz said he will represent his group along with group vice president Ira Saul, investor and former NBC Sports president Arthur Watson and legal counsel Tom Newell.
Tracz said their stadium discussion will center on the 170-acre parcel of land near Dulles Airport the group has under contract and the portion of the Fort Belvoir Proving Grounds it believes it can obtain. He said it also will talk about how the Class A Frederick Keys drew 277,000 fans and the Prince William Cannons 210,000 this season "even with the Orioles nearby." Those figures made Frederick No. 1 in attendance among Class A teams nationwide and Prince William No. 3, Tracz said.
But the group will focus on demonstrating that Washington and regions to the south and west alone are capable of supporting a team. "That's a big piece of the pie that the Orioles are not getting to," he said, "a big piece of the pie being left on the table by the owners."
"You know intuitively that the area has changed," Tracz said. "But it's been fascinating to look at it empirically. We are excited to present that information to the owners."