Expos could be back in Puerto Rico in '04Posted: Wednesday May 14, 2003 6:56 PM
Updated: Thursday May 15, 2003 12:28 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Montreal Expos still could be playing some of their home games in San Juan next year.
Baseball officials have been talking with a Puerto Rican promoter about returning to Hiram Bithorn Stadium if no permanent decision is made on the Expos' future home.
"Throughout the process we have continued to examine temporary solutions so we don't cut ourselves short," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating office, said Wednesday after a meeting of the sport's relocation committee. "Our primary goal is to get it done for next year."
Northern Virginia, Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., are trying to lure the Expos, but baseball wants financing in place for a ballpark before making a decision. To raise revenue this year, baseball moved 22 of the Expos' 81 home games from Montreal to San Juan.
Antonio Munoz, the promoter who guaranteed baseball $7 million for this year's San Juan schedule, thinks the island commonwealth can support up to 40 games.
"We've had conversations but we have not defined the amount of games we would bring, if any, or if it will be done or not," he said Wednesday. "There isn't anything solid yet"
No action on the Expos is expected Thursday, when all owners meet. The primary topic on the agenda is a vote to approve the proposed sale of the Anaheim Angels from The Walt Disney Co. to Arturo Moreno, a deal worth about $185 million.
Moreno, a native of Tucson, Ariz., would become the first Hispanic controlling owner in the major leagues, and approval is likely.
"Baseball has been encouraging diversity since Jackie Robinson," DuPuy said, referring to the Brooklyn Dodgers player who broke the color barrier in 1947. "This is just another step, obviously a very important step, in the continuum."
Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said Wednesday he already had spoken with Moreno but wouldn't go into details, saying it was inappropriate to discuss the conversations because the sale had not yet been approved. Mike Scioscia, who managed the Angels to their first World Series title last year, has not yet spoken with Moreno.
"Ownership change is obviously big, because any owner has the prerogative -- it's his business to make changes if he sees fit," Scioscia said before Wednesday night's game against the New York Yankees. "I don't think it's anything you can control, or there's any indication that there will be major changes."
Disney bought a 25 percent share of the Angels and took control of the team from founding owner Gene Autry in 1996 and purchased the remainder of his team following his death in 1998.
The other Los Angeles-area team, the Dodgers, also is up for sale. News Corp., which bought the team for $311 million in 1997, has been talking with Malcolm Glazer and his sons, the owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
DuPuy said discussions are continuing but no deal has yet been presented to the commissioner's office for approval.
Baseball officials have said they hoped to have a decision on the Expos' future by the All-Star break in mid-July, and DuPuy said Wednesday "it is possible to get it done for next season -- we have not given up on that goal." But none of the three areas has completed financing plans for a new ballpark.
Baseball has had some contacts with potential ownership groups, but has focused more on government officials and ballpark financing.
"If we can get it done by the All-Star game, that would be great," DuPuy said.
But if no decision is made, Puerto Rico's government would be interested in more games, and DuPuy said baseball would be willing to consider a second season there. The Expos averaged 14,282 for 10 games in San Juan last month and 10,613 for their first 12 games in Montreal.
"The position of the San Juan municipality has always been to have open arms. We are available," said Maria Elena Batista, San Juan's sports and recreation director. "We've had follow up conversations (with MLB). Those conversations have been about how successful it's been so far, how happy the players are, the fan support, and that San Juan continues to be an option (for more games)."