WASHINGTON (AP) — It was more pep rally than news
conference, with the mayor and city officials wearing red
Washington Senators caps, the ones with the curly “W”
on the front.

“After 30 years of waiting and waiting and waiting,”
said Mayor Anthony Williams, adding dramatic pauses for emphasis,
“and lots of hard work and more than a few prayers, there
will be baseball in Washington in 2005!”

Baseball returned to the nation’s capital for the first
time in 33 years yesterday, with an announcement from Major League
Baseball that the Montreal Expos will move to Washington next
season.

The announcement came one day before the anniversary of the
Senators’ final game. The team moved to Texas after the 1971
season, the last time a major league team moved.

“It’s a day when the sun is setting in Montreal, but
it’s rising in Washington,” Expos president Tony
Tavares told a news conference in Montreal.

More than 30,000 fans attended the Expos’ last game at
Olympic Stadium — about four times the normal number on a
given night — and at least one person was unhappy with the
move. The game against the Florida Marlins was delayed 10 minutes
after someone threw a golf ball that landed near second base and
players were pulled off the field.

Relocation of the Expos is subject to certain contingencies,
including a vote by team owners in November and passage of
legislation by the Washington’s City Council to build a
ballpark on the Anacostia River waterfront, south of the
Capitol.

“There has been tremendous growth in the Washington, D.C.,
area over the last 33 years, and we in Major League Baseball
believe that baseball will be welcomed there and will be a great
success,” commissioner Bud Selig said.

The team will play for three seasons at RFK Stadium while a new
ballpark is built. The first home game will be April 15 against the
Arizona Diamondbacks, according to the draft 2005 schedule that has
been circulated to major league teams. The team opens the season
April 4 at Philadelphia.

Eager fans arrived early for the announcement at
Washington’s City Museum. A petition was circulated to name
the team the “Washington Grays” in tribute to the
Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that played in Washington in
the 1930s and 1940s. Despite his cap, Williams said he
doesn’t want to recycle the Senators name for political
reasons — Washington doesn’t have voting representation
in the U.S. Senate.

Baseball has been looking for a new home for the Expos since the
financially troubled team was bought by the other 29 major league
owners in 2002.

Las Vegas; Norfolk, Va.; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and
Northern Virginia also made bids, but Washington clearly took the
lead during negotiations over recent weeks, strengthened by its
wealthy population base and a financial package that would build a
new stadium primarily with taxpayers’ money.

A crucial hurdle was cleared this week when baseball reached an
understanding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who had
previously objected to having a team move just 40 miles from his
Camden Yards stadium.

“Our negotiations with Major League Baseball are
continuing,” Angelos said in a statement issued last night.
“We have made substantial progress but have not yet reached
an agreement. Our aim has been to protect and preserve the Orioles
franchise and the economic benefits it has generated for Baltimore
for the past 50 years. Equally important have been our efforts to
protect Maryland’s investment in Camden Yards.”

Selig, in a conference call with reporters, declined to give
specifics on the talks with Angelos.

“There is equity on all sides, and Peter has been treated
fairly,” Selig said.

Under the deal baseball is negotiating with Angelos, an
appraiser would value the Orioles franchise, and the
commissioner’s office would guarantee its value for a period
of time, a baseball official said last night on the condition of
anonymity.

The commissioner’s office also would guarantee
Baltimore’s locally generated revenue for a period of time
and assist in the creation of a regional sports network, the
official said.

Selig called the relocation an “arduous, very, very
difficult” process.

“We don’t want to hurt existing franchises,”
the commissioner said. “On the other hand, we want to go to
the best place we can go to.”

With the announcement made, the process of selling the Expos
starts. A group that includes former Rangers partner Fred Malek has
been seeking a Washington franchise for five years, but several
other bidders are expected to show interest.

“The sooner we have a new owner, the better off
we’ll all be,” said Selig, adding the new owner will
decide on the team’s name, uniforms and spring training
site.

Hearings will begin soon on the city’s $440 million
package that would include the new ballpark and $13 million for
refurbishment of RFK. The money will come from a new tax on the
city’s largest businesses, a tax on baseball-related income
and lease payments by the team’s new owners.

Anticipating critics from those who say city funds
shouldn’t be used for baseball, Williams went on the
offensive to promote the team’s economic benefits.

“It’s the team owners, business owners, the stadium
users who are paying for this — and not one dime of a D.C.
resident is covering this important investment in our city,”
he said.

Washington needed confirmation from baseball this week because
the ballpark legislation has to be introduced in the City Council
by tomorrow in order for it to be passed by Dec. 31, when terms
expire for several pro-baseball council members.

Even now, some members of the council think the deal might not
pass because it is perceived as too generous to baseball in a city
that struggles to fund adequate schools and city services.

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