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Baseball: It’s Not Just About D.C.

As D.C. officials and business leaders meet today with Major League Baseball officials in Phoenix to make their case for bringing baseball back to Washington, support for the city’s bid in the corridors of Congress is anything but a foregone conclusion.

With officials from Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., also vying for the chance to bring the ailing Montreal Expos to their areas, state loyalties have surfaced as a factor affecting whether lawmakers wax rhapsodic about the need to bring the national pastime to the nation’s seat of power.

“The District gets 20 million visitors a year, many of whom will peel off into baseball,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), making the case for her hometown. “So I think that anybody who does the math will wonder why they haven’t been here before.”

Norton said she and Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District, share a friendly rivalry.

“It’s natural that he would want baseball. It’s natural that I would want baseball, and what’s important is that both of us believe that this region must have baseball,” she noted.

If the District is successful, Congress will likely have some role in approving elements of the city’s financing plan for the $434 million stadium, said Chris Bender of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. For example, Bender said any plans to tax players’ incomes to help capitalize the project would require an amendment to the District’s home rule charter, which bars it from taxing individuals who live outside the District. Such a change would require Congressional approval.

For sports fanatics such as Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) — who during his time in the Old Dominion’s governor’s mansion created the financing model and put revenue sources in place for a potential ballpark in Northern Virginia — the competition to bring baseball to his side of the river is something of a personal crusade.

“Since he’s come to the Senate, he’s had numerous phone conversations and meetings with officials from Major League Baseball as well as with the relocation committee,” said Mike Waldron, Allen’s communications director. “He actually taped a video presentation for the committee this week.”

The video will be used as part of the Northern Virginia officials’ presentation in Phoenix. Still not every member of the state’s delegation is sold on the wisdom of a Virginia location.

While Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) has officially voiced support for a stadium in the metropolitan Washington area, a House source implied that the Congressman — who earned plaudits from constituents for his vocal opposition to the construction of a football stadium at Potomac Yard in Alexandria in the early 1990s — may harbor concerns as to the viability of a Northern Virginia location.

“Clearly, any baseball team whether it’s here [in Northern Virginia] or in Washington will have great economic benefits for the entire region. But where are you going to build in Northern Virginia? In Washington, there are places,” said the source, adding that some Virginia residents feel marginalized by the process.

“We have a serious budget situation in Virginia if anyone hasn’t noticed lately,” the source added. “They want to do it [baseball] is a way that’s fiscally responsible.”

So where does that leave legislators from the Beaver State? With Oregon confronting some of the bleakest economic conditions in the United States, Members from districts that include parts of the Portland metropolitan area appear to have more serious matters on their minds.

Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), a self-avowed football afficionado, said he is “generally supportive” of efforts to secure a team for Portland but questions the timing of the move.

“I would much rather see Portland win the competition than Washington, D.C.,” he asserted. “But if the choice were between spending $345 million on education and a stadium, I’d much rather spend it on public education.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the Congressman had not been involved in the effort to secure a team for Portland and had no comment on the process.

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá (D), whose commonwealth is slated to host 22 of the Expos’ “home games” in San Juan this season, appeared resigned to the fact that the team might soon have a new home.

“My first choice would have been to have them move to Puerto Rico,” Acevedo-Vilá quipped in a statement. “But since that is not an option right now, I think that D.C. would be an excellent city for the team.”

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