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Getting baseball back in DC: 'This was a struggle'

Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012
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Then came the follow-up questions: Was baseball serious this time, or was Washington again being used as a pawn to get other cities to make better offers? And what about Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who claimed that Washington should not have a team because it was part of his team's market?

And what about the folks across the Potomac River? The Northern Virginia region, with his wealthy residents fueled by the Internet boom, made a serious bid bankrolled by former telecommunications executive Bill Collins.

In fact, it's felt that one of the people most responsible for baseball in D.C. is then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who balked at the last minute over a financing plan that would have built a stadium in Loudoun County — just a little farther away from Baltimore.

"They had us," Evans said. "And had not Gov. Warner at the time refused to back the bonds with the state's full faith and credit, they could very well have gotten the franchise."

Eventually, baseball said yes to the Expos' move to Washington. Then they said no. A few weeks after that festive September 2004 news conference, the city council voted down the financing plan because it used too much public money.

Major League Baseball responded by shutting down the business and promotional operations that had been set up in D.C. Mayor Williams said: "The dream of 33 years is now once again close to dying."

"The most troubling moment in the odyssey was about 1 o'clock in the morning on that Tuesday in December," said Bill Hall, chairman of the D.C. government's Sports and Entertainment Committee, "when the council was unable to pass the baseball agreement."

Fast and furious negotiations ensued. A compromise was worked out, but one that was able to satisfy baseball. Two weeks later, the council voted 7-6 to approve the new deal, and the move was on again.

The renamed franchise, the Nationals, debuted at RFK in 2005. Certainly there have been new challenges since then. The team was terrible most of the time. Attendance was disappointing, and local television ratings were abysmal. The council had to go through another contentious vote to approve a lease agreement for the new stadium.

But baseball found an owner for the team, selling it to real estate developer Ted Lerner. The club moved into Nationals Park in 2008. Fan support has grown, and the team is finally winning.

Most of those responsible for making it happen will be there Wednesday for the playoff game. Many of them have moved on. Malik gathered a list of thousands of potential season ticket holders and hoped to own the team, but baseball passed him over in favor of Lerner. Evans is one of only two council members who essentially supported the baseball movement from start to finish who still hold elective office.

But most everyone agrees: It's all been worth it.

"When I walked out of that stadium after the last (regular season) game last Wednesday, people were just so happy and thankful and all of that," Evans said. "I looked around, and the place was packed. I've been at last games in the past when there's nobody there. It just was a good feeling that whatever it took to get there, we did it. And that's what mattered."

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP