Pitch season underway as Expos search for new city

WASHINGTON: Major League Baseball (MLB) needs to find a new home for the Montreal Expos in 2004, and last week marked the official beginning of campaign season for those cities looking to take the team in.

WASHINGTON: Major League Baseball (MLB) needs to find a new home for the Montreal Expos in 2004, and last week marked the official beginning of campaign season for those cities looking to take the team in.

Mayors, architects, sports commissioners, private investors, and a handful of PR people converged on New York last week to meet with members of the MLB Relocation Committee. It was the first step in what will likely be a year-long process to decide where to send the Expos, who will soon begin their final year in Montreal.

The two acknowledged front-runners - Washington, DC and Northern Virginia - were joined by two last-minute contenders. Portland, OR sent a delegation that included its mayor and a $350 million proposal for a new stadium.

And, according to several participants in the talks, Puerto Rico has begun expressing interest as well.

But the city most often singled out by sportswriters and MLB brass as the favorite is Washington, DC, which hasn't had a team in 30 years. Leading the charge are Mayor Anthony Williams, sports commissioner Bobby Goldwater, sports and entertainment PR firm Brotman Winter Fried (BWF), and private interest group Washington Baseball Club.

Northern Virginia, considered a possible candidate because of its proximity to Washington, sent a delegation that included a number of senior state officials plus PR firm White & Baldacci (WB), which was recently hired specifically for the first six months of the project, at a cost of $200,000.

WB expects the contract to be renewed until MLB makes its decision.

The primary target of the campaigns is a tiny group of MLB decision makers, but both Washington and Virginia recognize the need to argue their case in the media. "Whenever any major stories about the suitability of Washington hit the media, we distribute it to a list of baseball beat writers around the country," said BWF cofounder Steve Winter. "We're trying to put our best foot forward, because we know baseball writers have some influence over MLB leadership."

Winter said his firm, which is on retainer as agency of record for the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, was also working with the other parties to whip up support within the district, holding town-hall meetings and seeking comment from locals on their preferred placement of a new stadium.

Mike Smith, VP and managing Director at WB, said his firm was assisting in similar efforts on Virginia's behalf. "We're hoping to assist a separate grassroots entity called Virginians for Baseball," he said, "and we're staying in touch with local media, sports writers, and the sports world in general."

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