Professional baseball returns to D.C.

Former Washington Senators public address announcer Charlie Brotman flashed a smile Wednesday afternoon and let out three decades of frustration.

“Happy days are here again,” he told a crowd of hundreds gathered for a press conference in the foyer of the D.C. City Museum. The gathering marked the announcement that a Major League Baseball team will take the field on District soil for the first time in 33 years next April.

Sporting a bright red Washington Senators cap to compliment his signature bow tie, Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams told the crowd that MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the league’s Relocation Committee awarded the struggling Montreal Expos franchise to the District. Selig informed Williams and company via conference call earlier Wednesday afternoon, ending the city’s longtime effort to woo a team.

The mood of the conference was light, as a flock of City Council members each made remarks that produced applause from many crowd members decked out in Senators jerseys, caps and T-shirts.

“It has been 30 years of waiting and waiting and waiting,” Williams said, referring to the Senators’ departure to Texas in 1971. “After a lot of hard work and more than a few prayers, there will be baseball in Washington.”

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who also serves as chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, was in attendance, wearing a cowboy hat.

“(Baseball) is great for GW,” he said. “Anything that makes the city more attractive, more interesting, and makes the business climate better, is great.”

Trachtenberg also had a suggestion for the team’s nickname. “I think they should be called the George Washingtons,” he said.

The yet-to-be named team will play its home games in RFK Stadium for three seasons under Williams’ proposed plan before moving into a new $440 million ballpark for the 2008 season. The new park will be erected along the banks of the Anacostia River near the corner of South Capitol and M streets S.E.

Williams said the stadium will be financed by taxes affecting three entities: stadium users, business owners and the team’s owners. “Not one dime,” he said, “is coming from D.C. residents.”

In the next few months, councilman Jack Evans said the city will conduct a series of public hearings about the proposed stadium. The plan includes a $13 million renovation of RFK Stadium to get it baseball-ready for opening day, which is set for April 15, 2005, Evans said. For the relocation to become official, he added, three fourths of Major League owners must approve the move in a vote scheduled for November.

“I’m very excited that baseball is back in the nation’s capital,” Selig said during a conference call with reporters after Wednesday’s announcement. “It’s a great day for baseball. We’ve finally taken the first step but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Part of the work involved reaching an agreement with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who felt a team in the District threatened his team’s revenue stream. Selig said Angelos will be financially compensated but did not release the terms of the deal.

“It was a very complex situation,” Selig said. “More complex than anyone knew. But there was equity on both sides.”

The decision came after weeks of deliberation by MLB, which chose D.C. over Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; and Monterrey, Mexico.

GW alumnus Bill Collins, who headed the effort to bring a team to Northern Virginia for much of the last decade, blamed another GW alumnus, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, for failing to land the Expos, the Associated Press reported.

The Washington Baseball Club, a local ownership group, is Williams’ pick to take control of the Expos, who are currently owned by all 29 Major League owners. However, MLB has not yet made a decision on who will gain ownership.

Winston Lord, Executive Director of the Washington Baseball Club, said MLB has not given his group a timetable on when the ownership decision will be made but said he is optimistic his group will get a chance.

After learning of MLB’s decision, GW students said they were happy about having the chance to watch a major league team without traveling to Baltimore.

“I think it’s awesome,” senior Adam Hopkins said. “It’s a good thing for baseball. Montreal is not really a good market. D.C. is a better market.”

Students who are fans of National League teams, which do not play in Baltimore, were especially pleased.

“(A National League team) will make it easier,” said Nitin Sindal, a graduate student and San Francisco Giants fan. “It definitely benefits me.”

Despite yesterday’s optimism, questions still remain about the viability of Washington as a baseball city. The Senators left town on two occasions. The first incarnation of the franchise moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1960, and the second edition of the team moved to Texas to become the Rangers in 1971.

However, Lord pointed to the District’s booming population, a number he said has tripled since the 1970s. A large fan base, in addition to a reliable and far-reaching public transportation system, he said, will make Washington a prime place for a major league team.

“This isn’t your grandfather’s D.C.,” Lord said.

-Joshua Meredith contributed to this story.

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