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Counted out or still counting down?

In the past week, we've heard South Florida and Denver are the top two choices for National League expansion sites. We've heard Tampa Bay's ownership group might not have as much up-front money. We've heard NL officials say the expansion announcement could be delayed another three months. We've heard a heck of a lot. Today, we share some of your letters and comments we've gathered from others in and around this expansion business about just where Tampa Bay stands:

Tampa Bay's strikers haven't struck out yet. It may be two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but it's not over until the fat lady sings, and she's still eating popcorn. Let's stay in the box and take our best swing; there will be two winners in this game. The lords of baseball are watching!

Don Dukes, Seminole

I don't know what to make out of the latest developments. It's been a long process, and so much speculation has been wrong.

I think Major League Baseball, if it had its druthers, would rather deal with a minimum number of people in an ownership group. They've stressed that for years. That may be something that they don't like in (Tampa Bay's ownership group). I just don't know.

Frank Morsani, former leader

Tampa Bay ownership group

I have a "Tribute to Expansion Countdown" on a wall in my apartment. There is a lot of support for getting NL baseball in this area from Tampa residents (despite some ignorant comments made by Tampa Tribune writers re: the Florida Suncoast Dome).

The effort has my full support, but what will become of my countdown list now that the expansion committee has decided to torture us even longer? I guess I'll just have some more "Maalox moments," and the question mark on the bottom will have to do for now.

Tom Van Aman, Tampa

When the six members of (the St. Petersburg City) Council and the (St. Petersburg) Times sold this stadium to us in 1986, the big selling point was that the stadium would enhance our chances.

It appears from what's happened in the last week or so, it has had absolutely no impact on our ability to attract a team. It appears the whole stadium premise is in error.

Dennis McDonald

St. Petersburg

Former mayoral candidate

I think the Tampa Bay area is still in the running. You can't say anybody else is No. 1 or 2 or 3. We're still the only one of the three that has a baseball facility that's ready to go.

Gabe Paul, Tampa

Longtime baseball executive

The answer is greed!

When you wonder why the delay in expansion, remember this: The choice of cities has been decided. It won't change. Why can't you see it?

Ralph Strickland,

St. Petersburg

The delay doesn't surprise me. It appears the other owners in baseball have realized there's a lot of money involved and that this is a tough decision.

As far as speculation, I've learned never to listen to it. In 1969, there was a headline in the papers here that Buffalo and San Diego had the National League expansion teams. And at the last minute, a deal was struck with Montreal. Until the commissioner stands up there and announces the two cities, I'm not going to speculate.

Mike Billoni,

Executive vice president

Buffalo expansion group

After much thought, I've concluded the National League expansion cities will be Miami and Denver. Shortly after, the Cleveland Indians will announce their move to St. Petersburg with Frank Morsani owning a small part of the franchise. They will win the pennant their first year.

Mario Miceli, Tampa

This is typical of what you can expect from baseball. It's a typical arrogance that one can expect from baseball and its people, to dangle a city and county and state on a string. They think they're above the typical business practices, and ethics.

As an attorney, I think the antitrust immunity that baseball has is ludicrous and absurd and their conduct in this entire expansion process is blatant evidence that Congress should strip that away.

I wouldn't predict what they'd do in a million years. Those kind of people are not predictable. I gave up on those people. I like the kind of people in the NHL, where you walk in and make a presentation and 24 hours later they can make a decision. It may not be the decision you want, but by God, they're men of principle and they can make a decision.

James Cusack, Tampa

Why are we supporting Blockbuster Video in this area since their leader is doing everything to get us out of the baseball expansion market? Let us all block Blockbuster and its effort to block St. Petersburg from getting an expansion team.

T. Hatjidannou, Tampa

I try to maintain an even emotional keel. It's been a real roller coaster for the past 10 years or so. I think there have been times when we were very obviously the only choice as the No. 1 site.

Perhaps recently some other sites have made some aggressive moves in the ownership area. It may be right now that we're having to play catch-up. But it can be done. And I think it will be done.

Bill Bunker, exec. director

Pinellas Sports Authority

Re: The May 26 story, "Lawyer demands black representation." Touche! H.

T. Smith strikes again! Just when you thought it was safe to simply count down to the magic hour of the National League expansion committee picking the two cities for expansion, my colleague Mr. Smith has issued a timely challenge to H. Wayne Huizenga, which could very well be the death knell for ever having baseball in South Florida: Commit right now to include blacks into the system, or you will strike out!

If the folks in the Tampa Bay area were smart, they would rally around H.

T.'s challenge, take the initiative to do what Huizenga apparently is not going to do, and send a very clear response to the committee that unlike Huizenga's group, Tampa Bay's effort will immediately follow up with such a challenge.

My father once said that our American culture should be shared by everyone. What is it about Huizenga that makes him so reluctant to inject an immediate dose of equality into a part of American culture where a sizable portion of its participants are blacks from the northern and southern American continents?

To the Tampa Bay group, you should be thankful to H.

T. Smith. He has provided you with the means by which to thwart any further chances of Miami being awarded the franchise over St. Petersburg. Make his challenge work to your advantage. Seriously decide to include blacks in key administrative roles, and in these few days left, you will definitely not strike out.

Terry Wimbish, Miami

Now that the expansion committee will be naming the expansion cities possibly as late as September, I think it would be a good idea to go ahead with the "Name the Team Contest" and get a name and logo going for our "future" area team. This way Tampa/St. Petersburg will have the promotional material ready the day after the decision is made. It may also show the expansion committee we're serious about baseball!

Wendy Groover, Largo

I'm betting on Denver and Miami to get teams _ the "doomed stadium" can be used for tractor pulls.

Bill Hoth, Clearwater

If we don't get the baseball franchise, Major League Baseball has not mugged us. You, the St. Petersburg Times, who relentlessly pushed for the Dome construction with biased, imbalanced reporting, mugged us. Journalism is a balanced representation of the news. Leave bias and opinion for the editorial page.

Herbert G. Smith,

St. Petersburg

_ Staff writers John Romano, Tom Tobin, Don Banks, Rick Stroud and Marc Topkin contributed to this report.