WASHINGTON -- 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.
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.
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 US 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.
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 ballpark. "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."
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.