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Expos Confirm Move To D.C.

Baseball is returning to the nation's capital for the first time in 33 years, in the form of the Montreal Expos.

Major League Baseball announced Wednesday the team is moving to Washington to begin play at RFK Stadium in the 2005 season.

"It's a day when the sun is setting in Montreal, but it's rising in Washington," Expos president Tony Tavares told a news conference at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

The announcement came one day before the 33rd anniversary of the Washington Senators' final game. The team moved to Texas after the 1971 season, which was also the last time a major league team moved.

Relocation of the Expos is subject to certain contingencies, including a vote by team owners in November and passage of legislation by the District of Columbia Council to build a ballpark on the Anacostia River waterfront in southeast Washington, baseball said.

"There has been tremendous growth in the Washington, D.C., area over the last 33 years, and we in Major League Baseball believe that baseball will be welcomed there and will be a great success," commissioner Bud Selig said.

Eager fans arrived early for an afternoon news conference in Washington at the City Museum. A petition was being circulated to name the team the "Washington Grays" in tribute to the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that played in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s.

Baseball has been looking for a new home for the Expos since the financially troubled team was bought by the other 29 major league owners in 2002.

Las Vegas; Norfolk, Va.; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and Northern Virginia also made bids, but Washington clearly took the lead during negotiations over recent weeks, strengthened by its wealthy population base and a financial package that would build a new stadium primarily with taxpayers' money.

A crucial hurdle was cleared this week when, according to the city official, baseball reached an understanding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who had previously objected to having a team move just 40 miles from the Orioles' Camden Yards stadium.

"It can work in all regards," said former Senators and Orioles player Fred Valentine. "It's going to benefit fans in Baltimore and Washington. People that want to see National League ball can come here, and fans that want to see American League baseball can go to Baltimore. If they have good teams on both fields, they're both going to get their support."

Plans call for a $440 million package that would include the new ballpark along the Anacostia about a dozen blocks south of the U.S. Capitol. The package also includes a $13 million refurbishment of RFK, the team's temporary home.

With the announcement made, the process of selling the Expos starts. A group that includes former Rangers partner Fred Malek has been seeking a Washington franchise for five years. In addition, several baseball officials have said in the past week that Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, might be trying to assemble a group.

Some fans interviewed Wednesday in the district's downtown were wary of the financial implications for the cash-strapped city government.

"It's probably money that could be better spent elsewhere," said John Beckley, a Virginia resident who routinely treks to Baltimore to see the Orioles play.

"I guess the nation's capital deserves to have a representative in baseball, but obviously it's going to cost a lot of money," said Stephen Thomas, a district resident.

Others, liked retired district resident Bob Ryan, were clearly elated.

"I've lived here all my life. I was a Washington Senators fan in the old days," Ryan said. "It's good to have it back."

"It's been way too long without a team down here," said Erin Dieterich, of suburban Silver Spring, Md. "It's a national pastime and this is the nation's capital."

Washington needed an answer from Major League Baseball this week because the ballpark legislation had to be introduced in the City Council by Friday in order for it to be passed by Dec. 31, when terms expire for several pro-baseball council members.

Even now, some members of the council think the deal might not pass because it is perceived as too generous to baseball in a city that struggles to fund adequate schools and city services.

"I think everybody is excited about baseball coming to the District," Councilman Adrian Fenty said. "Very few District residents are excited about a full subsidy to pay for this stadium. ... At the end of the day, you're not going to have seven council members support it."

The original Senators played in Washington from 1901-60 before moving to Minnesota to become the Twins. The expansion Senators called Washington home from 1961-71 before moving to Texas and becoming the Rangers.

Montreal's last home game was Wednesday night against Florida, the 2,786th for the Expos in the city, according the Elias Sports Bureau. That includes 641 at Jarry Park, where the team started play in 1969, and 2,145 at Olympic Stadium, where the Expos moved to in 1977.