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Indians won't play ball in Citrus

Citrus County's dreams of being the spring training hosts to the Cleveland Indians died Friday when the team revealed its intention to move to Homestead. The Indians are about to sign a letter of intent on a two- to three-year deal with the south Dade County city, said Steve Wylie, Citrus' assistant county administrator.

Rick Horrow, the attorney representing the Indians, confirmed Friday evening that an agreement with Homestead was imminent, Wylie said. Horrow could not be reached for comment.

Indians officials signed a similar agreement with Citrus County in November. But in recent months, after the release of a proposed stadium lease with the county, relations between the two parties soured.

After an exclusive negotiating period tying the team and Citrus County expired April 9, the County Commission voted to extend the agreement. The Indians never responded.

"It was very obvious that they were negotiating with someone else," said County Commissioner Gary Bartell. "It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out."

Citrus County had intended to build an 8,500-seat stadium and an adjoining practice complex, using a combination of government and private financing. Homestead has a state-of-the-art, unused spring training facility that was built in 1988 to attract a spring training team, said Wylie, a former assistant city manager of Homestead.

The Indians, who now train in Tucson, Ariz., had intended to move to Florida in time for the 1993 season.

Bartell said he was not surprised that the deal had fallen apart.

"This deal wasn't made with Citrus County, it was made with the Tamposis and Mr. Jacobs," he said, referring to the Citrus development family and Dick Jacobs, the owner of the Indians. "Their real estate deal (for land around the proposed stadium site in Hernando) fell apart. That was the hinge to start with."

Bartell said he felt betrayed by the way Indians officials conducted themselves in the negotiations. "As of this date, we don't know any more than we did when we got their letter of intent."

Wylie echoed those thoughts. "We wish they would have been more up front with us," he said.

The county has been trying to contact the Indians since Monday without any response, Wylie said. He had hoped to resume negotiations since Gov. Lawton Chiles had signed a bill last week that would have provided state funds for the Citrus baseball effort.

Bartell could only speculate as to why Homestead was chosen over Citrus County.

"I've heard that (the team) may move to Joe Robbie Stadium (in Miami) if they can't get a new stadium in Cleveland," he said, adding that if that were the case, spring training in nearby Homestead would make sense.

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