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NEXT TIME a telemarketer interrupts dinner, don't curse: He could be offering you a major league team. This month former San Antonio mayor Nelson Wolff got a cold call from Corey Busch, head of the relocation committee appointed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to find a new home for the Montreal Expos. Busch had a question: Is San Antonio interested in the Expos? "I was surprised and pleased to get the call," says Wolff, a county judge who's known as Mr. Baseball in San Antonio for leading the successful effort to build a stadium for the Triple A San Antonio Missions in the early 1990s. "But my response was, 'We're still several years away from being considered a market for major league baseball.' "
As les Expos get ready for another lame-duck summer, the effort to relocate them is grinding into gear. This week Selig's committee will begin meeting with delegations from three locales—Washington, D.C, Northern Virginia and Portland—that are eager for the team. The first step is to secure assurances from the bidding cities that a ballpark will be built for the team. Then the committee will worry about finding an owner. There's no guarantee that the team will have a new home by the 2004 season.
"Baseball hasn't done the best job of selecting markets," says a league official, mindful of the struggling franchises and uninviting stadiums in Florida. "You can have the greatest market and greatest owner, but if you don't have a good venue, the rest doesn't matter."
To boost the odds of a sweetheart stadium deal, baseball is scouring the U.S.—and beyond—to drum up candidate cities. In addition to the three front-runners and San Antonio, the committee has reached out to officials in Charlotte, and it will keep tabs on the Expos' 22 games in Puerto Rico this year to gauge San Juan's suitability as a relocation spot. Mexico City and northern New Jersey have also been floated as potential homes. Who'll wind up with the Expos? Here's a look at the top contenders.