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.Rocky Mountain News wrote:August 11, 2003
• Candidates to lure the Expos away from Montreal:
While Montreal's 14 former limited partners have threatened to file an injunction preventing the sale or move of the team while they prepare for a pending arbitration hearing against former general partner Jeffrey Loria, some cities are in better shape than others to get the Expos - at least for one more season.
Closest major league team: Seattle Mariners, 145 miles
Baseball past: Professional baseball was first played in 1905 on the site of PGE Park, current home of the San Diego Padres' Class AAA farm team. Occasional home of farm teams since 1961.
Outlook: The Oregon Senate Rules Committee must vote HB 3606 - the stadium finance bill - to the Senate floor, where it would need 16 votes to advance to the desk of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who supports the bill. But there is little support coming from the committee, and it's anyone's guess when it might get around to voting for it. In the meantime, Portland has offered up PGE Park to the Expos for 81 dates, but Mayor Vera Katz has not heard back from baseball officials.
Population: 3.5 million.
Closest major league team: Houston Astros, 411 miles
Baseball past: Estadio Monterrey is the home of the Sultanes, a Mexican League team that would have to make changes in its schedule if the Expos were lured. The New York Mets and San Diego Padres played a three-game regular-season series there in 1996, the first time that had happened outside the United States and Canada. The Colorado Rockies and the Padres opened the 1999 season there.
Outlook: Carlos Bremer, CEO of the Value Grupo Financiero, has submitted a bid to play 81 games in 2004. Jose Maiz, owner of the Sultanes and their stadium, also is part of the bid. The 27,000-seat ballpark built in 1991 includes luxury suites, and could be expanded to more than 30,000 next season, the group said. Bremer, whose personal worth reportedly is $1.3 billion, has a plan to refurbish the stadium and increase its capacity to 40,000 if he succeeds in permanently relocating the Expos.
I really Like the Mexico city one ..
Population: 193,000 in Arlington County.
Closest major league team: Baltimore Orioles, 39 miles
Baseball past: While there are several minor league teams in the state, only the Potomac Cannons of the Class A Carolina League, who play in Woodbridge, Va., could be considered an area team.
Outlook: Three of Northern Virginia's five potential ballpark sites are in Arlington County, but the county's board of supervisors in July nixed the idea of building a a 42,500-seat ballpark in Arlington.
According to the Washington Post, the reaction by Arlington's board effectively could kill the Northern Virginia bid for a team, because the two remaining sites there - in Fairfax and Loudoun counties - are considered less desirable.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
• Population: 437,745.
• Closest major league team: Florida Marlins, 1,038 miles
• Baseball past: Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which opened in 1962 and now has artificial turf and modest outfield dimensions, was named after the first Puerto Rican-born player to reach the major leagues. Bithorn pitched for the Cubs and White Sox in the 1940s, winning 18 games for the Cubs in 1943. San Juan was the host for baseball's 2001 season opener between Texas and Toronto.
• Outlook: San Juan could be gaining ground, at least as a temporary home, based on its success with a 22-game schedule with the Expos this season. Baseball was guaranteed $7 million by San Juan promoter Antonio Muñoz Sr., who already has submitted another bid for 81 games. That's something commissioner Bud Selig might consider more strongly as time runs out for other prospective cities to have complete financing for a new ballpark. It's possible San Juan, despite the stadium's inferior facilities and only about 19,000 seats, or Monterrey could become the temporary residence in 2004 while the other cities fight it out to become the Expos' permanent home.
• Population: 572,059.
• Closest major league team: Baltimore Orioles, 35 miles
• Baseball past: The District already is a two-time loser. In 1961, the existing franchise known as the Senators became the Minnesota Twins; an expansion franchise, also called the Senators, began playing in D.C. in 1961 but left for Texas after the 1971 season.
• Outlook: RFK Stadium is available now, but that won't be enough to put the Expos in D.C., particularly if the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority doesn't give up its fight. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is seeking a $339 million ballpark subsidy financed by existing taxes on rooms and meals, combined with revenue from a new city-owned hotel. D.C. Council member Jack Evans and others have said they will not approve any ballpark financing plan until baseball designates Washington the preferred home of the Expos
Commissioner Bud Selig calls the Expos "the last residue of contraction." They sidestepped that fate through 2006 when the owners and players agreed to table contraction until then as part of the new Basic Agreement reached Aug. 30. The Expos, who begin a three- game series tonight at Olympic Stadium with the Colorado Rockies, are owned by the other 29 major league clubs. And in an attempt to boost attendance and revenue, the 2003 schedule was drawn up with the Expos playing 22 games in Puerto Rico.
This divided home schedule, which the players' association agreed to, is about to become history. Gene Orza, the No. 2 official in the association, recently said he didn't think Major League Baseball could do anything to again get the Expos players to split the season as they have this year.
"I think we're concerned about playing 81 home games in one place," Montreal catcher Michael Barrett said. "And I don't think any of us care if it was Japan at this point after what we've been through this year.
"We're pretty much numb to all the things that have gone on around us. I think right now, if you were to look at all the options (for 2004), Montreal is the most viable option, and it's the most attractive place to play because the stadium is already there, the clubhouses are already set and we don't have to worry about the weather (with the roof on Olympic Stadium). This team is already used to the travel in and out of Montreal. Montreal is an established major league city. There's a history there."
Not a good history in recent years, though, which is how the Expos got into this mess. Decimated by the players' strike in 1994-95, the Expos' attendance and fortunes on the field plummeted. Uncertainty about their future rose when former owner Jeffrey Loria took over in December 1999, and in his two seasons - Loria now owns the Florida Marlins - in Montreal. During Loria's brief tenure, the Expos lost 95 and 94 games, fired longtime manager Felipe Alou and saw attendance wither to 642,748 in 2001, a single-season franchise low.
Before the 2002 season, the Expos were bought by the 29 other clubs. So they now have no permanent owner and no permanent home. Selig said MLB's relocation committee is trying to find a solution as quickly as possible.
Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., are trying to land the Expos. So is Northern Virginia, although the situation there was clouded last month by the announcement that funds would not be earmarked for construction of a ballpark.
A group from Puerto Rico, which engineered the Expos' three homestands in San Juan this season, has told Major League Baseball it would like the club to play its entire home schedule there in 2004. And recently, a Mexican businessman made a proposal to take the franchise to Monterrey, the third-largest city in Mexico, for 81 games next year and make that temporary move permanent.
"I'm not going to say it's been easy," Barrett said. "But we still are blessed with the opportunity to put on a major league uniform, and that exceeds everything else. When we had (traditional) ownership and a general manager (Bill Stoneman) who had come up through this organization, the one thing that was certain was there's going to be uncertainty, since I've been in this organization."
Hanging in there
On July 31, the Expos beat the visiting St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 to finish the month 10-17 and avoid their first month with a single-digit win total since September 2001. The victory was notable in another respect; it was only Montreal's sixth in its past 23 decided by two runs or less.
Indeed, the Expos were 49-45 at the All-Star break and 3 ½ games behind Philadelphia in the wild-card race. After the break, the Expos played four games in Philadelphia and lost three. Two of the defeats came in 11 innings, and two were by one run. The Expos have gone 59-59 and are on the wild-card fringe, 5 ½ games behind, despite having a rash of injuries.
Right fielder Vladimir Guererro returned July 21 after going on the disabled list June 6 and missing 39 games because of a herniated disk. He began missing games May 27 because of back problems; at that point, the Expos were 2 ½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. Without Guerrero, the Expos went 17-22.
Zach Day, who was Montreal's No. 2 starter when the season began, missed 50 games because of an inflamed right shoulder before he returned July 26.
Opening Day starter Tony Armas Jr. made five starts before a rotator cuff injury put him on the disabled list, and he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery May 23.
Orlando Hernandez, a starter acquired in the off-season, never made it out of spring training and underwent shoulder surgery May 12. And Luis Ayala, a very effective reliever, missed 23 games because of an inflamed right shoulder before being activated July 23.
"Last year, if this team had gone through what this team has gone through, the bottom would've fallen out," Robinson said. "Right now, we're just down to the bottom. I think this team physically and mentally has grown. I'm very proud of the way this team has held together."
A Hall of Fame player, Robinson, who turns 68 on Aug. 31, was the first black manager in the major leagues in 1975. He hadn't managed since 1991, when he returned to the dugout last year. Robinson said he told the Expos players in spring training they can only control what happens on the field and not to focus on anything else.
Easier said than done, considering the spectre of contraction hovered about the Expos for much of last season, and this year has taken them down another dark passageway.
"Frank is a perfect fit for what we're going through," Barrett said. "He looks at adversity as part of the game, part of the daily circumstance. If I were to write a mission statement for Frank, it would be: Adversity is part of life. Meet it head-on and overcome it.
"I'm a big believer that attitude reflects leadership. I know that's a quote from Remember the Titans. Last year, that was kind of our motto. I really felt it started at the top with Frank and with Omar."
Namely, general manager Omar Minaya. Last year, Minaya acquired pitcher Bartolo Colon from Cleveland on June 27, parting with some very good prospects. Minaya also acquired outfielder Cliff Floyd from Florida on July 11, only to turn around nearly three weeks later and deal Floyd to Boston, because his knees weren't going to fare well on the artificial turn at Olympic Stadium and Floyd couldn't be a designated hitter in the National League.
"Our strategy is different because last year, contraction was still a possibility," Minaya said. "So you were doing everything you can to improve the club for today. This year's different. The team's going to be around. You're still in (wild-card) contention, but you don't want to mortgage the future too much. Last year, you were able to mortgage the future, because there was no future."
Earlier this season, Minaya was able to arrange a deal with Texas for outfielder Juan Gonzalez. Minaya scouted and coached in the Rangers organization and had a long history with Gonzalez, who began his career in that organization. The deal for Gonzalez, who is making $12 million and can be a free agent after this season, fizzled because he has a no-trade clause and opted to remain in Texas.
"It was disappointing," Minaya said. "Vlady Guerrero was out. At that time, we were close to 10 games over (.500), and I felt bringing Juan on board would have kept us in that range, which would have helped us out when Vlady came back. That being said, I can understand why Juan wouldn't want to come here. He didn't want to change leagues. He wanted an extension (of his contract); we couldn't do that. And there was concern about the artificial turf."
The Expos understand why Gonzalez was reluctant to come to Montreal, to join a franchise, which center fielder Brad Wilkerson said is seen as being "in disarray." The July 31 trade deadline came and went without any moves by the Expos. Robinson said he and his players "understand the hand that we've been dealt" and know that any improvement must come from within, not from some big-name acquisition.
"We try to look at it this way," Robinson said. "Knowing your family doesn't have the finances to give you the gift that you want on Christmas, you don't go looking under the tree, expecting the unexpected. If it happens to be that big bicycle is sitting under the tree - your dad got a little bonus and was able to get some money to turn loose - you say, 'Wow. Holy smoke. This is great.'
"And that's the same way here. Last year, we were very fortunate Omar was able to pull those two deals off, even though the Floyd thing didn't work out as well as we hoped and the whole team went flat. But the Colon thing really gave us a lift."
Another letdown seems inevitable for the Expos this fall. After this season, right fielder Guerrero, 27, can file for free agency. He is the Expos' best player, and even in a declining economic market, it's hard to imagine Guerrero not receiving substantially more than first baseman Jim Thome did last winter. That's when Thome, who turns 33 on Aug. 27 and was the most desirable hitter in a weak free-agent market last off-season, signed a six-year, $85 million contract with Philadelphia.
If the Expos still are owned by MLB, will the other owners give Minaya the financial clout to try and keep Guerrero? Minaya said MLB might want Guerrero to remain with the Expos franchise to increase its value to a potential buyer. Asked whether he has received such indications, Minaya said, "No signs yet."
Second baseman Jose Vidro, another Montreal All-Star, can be a free agent after the 2004 season, which is the distant future as far as the Expos are concerned. Minaya said he expects to find out around the middle of next month where the Expos will play next year. But where that will be, what happens to Guerrero, when MLB's relocation committee recommends a buyer - meaning there is a match between a prospective ownership group and financing for a ballpark in a new home - are anyone's guess.
"The projection down the road is a gray area," Minaya said. "We really don't know on most things. The only thing we know is that this team is not going to be contracted."
Will Minaya remain with the Expos after this season? He is a desirable candidate for any team seeking a general manager. The Cincinnati Reds are without one, having fired Jim Bowden on July 28, and the New York Mets, where Minaya was an assistant general manager, have an interim general manager in Jim Duquette.
The top ticket at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan goes for $85. The stadium used to seat 14,200 but was expanded to 20,000 to accommodate the Expos. There are 1,016 of those $85 dollar seats, another 1,268 seats going for $75 and 1,056 available for $65.
The Expos' have averaged 14,248 a game for 16 games in Puerto Rico, that's a substantial increase over the 11,216 they have averaged for 42 games in Montreal this season.
This year, the Expos' opponents in Puerto Rico will include teams with cachet there. Namely, the Mets, Atlanta and Cincinnati - Ken Griffey Jr. was healthy when the Reds went to Puerto Rico in April. World-champion Anaheim and Texas, with Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican native, were Montreal's interleague rivals in San Juan in June. And Florida, which is nearby, and the always-popular Chicago Cubs come to Puerto Rico in September.
"If it keeps our team together playing in Puerto Rico (81 games next year) because we make more money down there, I'm for all for keeping our team together," Brian Schneider, a catcher and the team's player representative, said recently. "And that's what it's come down to. I don't want guys to be traded away or not be able to be signed in the off-season just because we don't have enough money. We've been through that enough."
But if the Expos play 81 games in Puerto Rico next year, how will less- attractive teams such as, say, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and San Diego draw there? And is the Puerto Rican economy strong enough to sustain a reasonable attendance? There are plenty of reasons to wonder.
But these off-field matters are of far less concern to the Expos. They want closure. They want direction. They want a future with some certainty.
"I think what they did to us this year is extremely unfair," Expos reliever Joey Eischen said. "It's unfair to us, and it gives the rest of the league an advantage over us. We're not playing Triple-A and Double-A here. This is the big leagues. It's (awful) that they're doing it to us at this level.
"They wouldn't do this to the Yankees. This wouldn't happen to the Dodgers. This wouldn't happen to the Diamondbacks. It sure as (heck) wouldn't happen to the Brewers. It's happening to the Montreal Expos."
The Expos and Minnesota Twins, both targeted for contraction after the 2001 season, have gone their separate ways, the way Eischen sees it. The Twins still need a new stadium, but there was a save-the-team clamor when contraction was announced and a court ruling saved the Twins. The Expos, who became a baseball orphan owned by the other 29 clubs, never had such support. The Expos are young, plucky and competitive, despite far more injuries this year than last season and the black cloud constantly overhead. As they have for months, the Expos await word from the decision-makers about where they're going. Target dates pass with no announcements about 2004, and the understandably skeptical Expos remain adrift.
"The Twins are in the United States and had backing," Eischen said. "We're a Canadian team and have no fans and no owner right now. Who's going to speak up for us? Baseball owns us. We're their play-toy right now. That's why they do what they do with us. They can. We don't have people in our corner."
LCBOY wrote:I's say move the Expos to New York City. Yeah, I know the Yanks and Met's will complain but screw them. This would bring the Yankees back down to the pack in terms of TV revenue since the Expos would take some away. And New York can certainly take a third team.
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