D.C.'s Ballgame

The leaves are just turning in the nation's capital but with a hint of spring, perhaps because Washington is getting a slice of Americana back: a baseball team of its very own.

Major League Baseball was expected to announce Wednesday that the former Montreal Expos will claim the District of Columbia as their new home in 2005.

Washington hasn't had a major league team since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after finishing the 1971 season 33 years ago. That was also the last time a major league team changed cities.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams wants public support for a $440 million, taxpayer-financed stadium to eventually house the team - a mighty tall order. Other cities around the country have had their share of controversy over the financing of stadiums.

Just servicing the debt on that amount will come to $11 million a year, according to District officials. The city would build the stadium with 30-year bonds backed by rent the team pays, a new tax on the 2,000 largest D.C. businesses, and a tax on retail purchases at the new stadium. At least it won't all be public money.

One study shows that a team in a market like Washington could spin off $100 million to $200 million for the local economy. And the team's new home would be built in southeast Washington, an area in need of redevelopment. But it's fair to ask if the city would have had a better return on its investment by building better schools and other infrastructure.

D.C. also has a high crime rate, and will need to consider how to make its streets safe so fans will be willing to go to the games.

Still, come next year it should be time to get out the hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks. As Joe DiMaggio said of baseball's Opening Day, "You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen."

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