Virginia Gov. James Gilmore attended tonight's All-Star Game as the guest of Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci. As he settled into a front row seat next to the visitor's dugout and surveyed Fenway Park for the first time, Gilmore called the trip a combination of business and pleasure.
On the day the Virginia Baseball Authority sent a massive study touting the region's economic strengths to major league owners, Gilmore said the time had come for the sport to return to the nation's capital. "The region deserves a team," he said. "We believe Virginia can provide the best venue. It's even more than that. Virginia is a rising state in the United States. When you're a rising state, you deserve the opportunity to have something great like major league baseball. I want the owners of baseball to know I cared enough to come and spend some time here and express Virginia's interest in having major league baseball."
Officials of the Virginia Baseball Authority, including lead investor William Collins, watched tonight's game after spending the past three days attending receptions and lobbying baseball executives on behalf of Washington and Northern Virginia.
Washington hasn't had major league baseball since the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season. The Montreal Expos could be sold this summer and Collins leads a group that will try to purchase the franchise for Northern Virginia, though the team would play at RFK Stadium in the District until a stadium was built. At least one other group might try to buy the Expos and move them to Washington permanently.
Washington faces stiff opposition from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who says he has staked out the area as his own. The Orioles have long said they draw about 25 percent of their fans from metropolitan Washington, and several baseball executives say they are reluctant to move a team to an area that might hurt an existing franchise.
Nevertheless, Gilmore, Collins and others intend to try to get a team.
"If a team has to move, no other market is comparable," said Michael Scanlon, executive vice president of the Virginia Baseball Authority. "Every other market is knee high to Virginia."
Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia group, said: "Owners ask what's the difference between our area now and 30 years ago. We've tried to answer those questions with our report. It's different in terms of income, population, different in many ways. Washington is the political capital of the country, but Northern Virginia is the center of the private sector."
Paul said his goal was to simply make contacts and to remind baseball executives that Northern Virginia is prepared to bid for a team if it becomes available.
"This is not a place for in-depth conversation," Paul said. "This is a place to make contacts and to arrange to see people later. It shows Major League Baseball we're serious."
Gilmore acknowledged possible opposition from the Orioles, saying: "In Virginia, we wouldn't be a direct competitor with Baltimore. I think that should alleviate the concern of the people in the Baltimore area."