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Step aside, Big Mac

McGwire to share spotlight with Expos during D.C. visit

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Posted: Thursday April 01, 1999 08:58 PM

  Mark McGwire will show off his home run prowess for Washington, D.C. this weekend. AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mark McGwire will be chasing Frank Howard. Nearly everyone else in the city already is chasing Montreal.

McGwire was expected to be the big drawing card this weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos play a couple of exhibition games at RFK Stadium.

Three seats in the high upper deck have been painted white, marking the landing spots of three of Howard's mammoth blasts with the old Washington Senators. That should give the 70-homer man a target for batting practice.

"We'll see if he can hit 'em as far as Frank used to," said stadium manager Jim Dalrymple, who oversaw an $80,000 effort to move the stands back to baseball configuration and otherwise spruce up the stadium for the games Friday and Saturday.

"You are looking at RFK Stadium the way it was set when the Yankees and Senators finished their last game," Dalrymple said.

Well, they didn't quite finish. Fans, upset over the Senators' impending move to Texas, stormed the field in the seventh inning and umpires called a forfeit.

That was in 1971, and the city's long-suffering, baseball-less fans have since been jilted over and over again as teams repeatedly flirts with a return to the nation's capital either via expansion or relocation.

The financially troubled Expos are the latest hot prospect, especially with the team unable to secure financing for a new ballpark. They are close, however, to getting several millions of dollars per year from the Quebec government toward building a new downtown stadium.

"The rest of the league is using us," said Charlie Brotman, the Senators public address announcer, who remembers conversations with Presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon before opening day games in the 1960s. "We're gullible enough to believe every owner who says he's going to move here. We go crazy."

The most such recent approach was made by the Astros. Had Houston voters there not approved a 1996 referendum to finance a new ballpark, the Astros probably would have been sold and moved to the D.C. suburbs in northern Virginia.

If the Expos were to move, it wouldn't take place until next year. That gives the team's current owners a few more months to figure out a way to keep the franchise in place.

Meanwhile, the Expos will keep playing in front of the mostly empty seats at cavernous Olympic Stadium.

"It's difficult in the fact that we go to the ballpark and there's just not many people," said Expos catcher Chris Widger, who went to George Mason University in northern Virginia. "If the team would have to move, I think it would be nice to play in a place where I played college ball. It's a great city for major sports."

The Expos would play two or three seasons at RFK while a new stadium is built in either Washington or northern Virginia -- both jurisdictions have a group in position to bid on a team. However, a move into the area would be vigorously opposed by Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, who claims Washington is part of his market.

Otherwise, there is much sentiment for putting the national pastime back in the nation's capital. Although both previous editions of the Senators failed to draw well, the metro area is experiencing a financial boom and is the nation's No. 7 television market.

"The area is such a hotbed of population and in terms of our country," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who first played at RFK in 1963 when he was an 18-year-old backup infielder for the Kansas City Athletics. "It only makes sense that a National League team should be there."

Related information
Washington itching to bring in Expos
Expos' future in Montreal looks bleak
Canadian government won't help Expos
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