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Learning to deal with big leagues

Shhh, listen. Can you can hear it? It's faint, but it's growing louder all the time. It's the "I told you so" chorus, and it will soon be a full-blown, throaty roar as the details of Citrus' dashed baseball deal begin to sink in.

Expect to hear all of the old perfect-hindsight noises: "I knew it would never work out. Citrus is too puny to play hardball with the big boys."

"They were just using us to get a better deal elsewhere. They never intended to come here."

"We don't need baseball."

Yeah, the county's economic base is so secure, we don't need to court a big, new employer such as a professional baseball team. We'll just bag ourselves another Wendy's.

Now, after several weeks of silence, the county finally has gotten word from the Indians, and the word is goodbye. Many will say good riddance. They may be right.

Citrus stuck its community neck out, and escaped with only a nick. We ran up some substantial legal bills and spent a lot of administrators' time on this _ time that opponents of the deal will say was wasted.

I look upon it as tuition, money spent for a graduate course in the workings of big business. That's because it is becoming clear that this deal was only about dollars, that this was a massive transaction that had as much to do with real estate marketing and baseball deals with the cities of Miami, Cleveland and possibly St. Petersburg as anything else.

Bringing spring training to Citrus County was almost a sidelight.

So, as we lick the wounds to our collective community pride (face it, no one likes to be jilted, even if you don't especially like the suitor), let's look at who won and who lost in the deal.

And consider that this is just the early line; all of the precincts haven't reported yet.

Winner: By default, all of the folks out there who opposed the deal. Before you organize a parade to yourselves and chirp about your newfound clout, remember: Your griping here was drowned out in Cleveland by the sound of Homestead's cash register.

Loser: Steve Wylie, assistant county administrator. It's going to be hard to shake that "guppy in with the sharks" tag, especially after the way Rick Horrow strung you along.

Winner: Chris Chinault, county administrator. Letting Wylie walk the plank alone gave you plenty of insulation. Can't blame you, can they?

Loser: Alex Griffin. The golden boy image of November became tarnished by Valentine's Day. But still deserves long applause for getting Citrus noticed in the first place.

Winner: Commissioner Gary Bartell. He asked the tough questions and says he saw it coming all along. Probably, he did.

Loser: The Tamposis. You thought you were having problems before, what with the reorganization of the empire and the lawsuits by the Citrus Hills builders. How are you going to make this project go with the linchpin now in Homestead?

Winner: Homestead. They built it, and it appears the Indians will come. Took the prize right out from under our noses.

Loser: Homestead. Just how much of your community soul _ and treasury _ are you willing to give?

Winner: The Cleveland Indians. The team was determined to get what it wanted, and knew someone, somewhere would give it to them.

Loser: The Cleveland Indians. Not since Robert Irsay stole the Colts from Baltimore in the middle of the night has a sports franchise betrayed a community so blatantly. "We'll get back with you soon." Yeah, right.

Loser: Citrus County. We lost a chance at a new employer, some much-needed new entertainment, a stadium, and some state and national exposure.

Winner: Citrus County again. So we didn't win the big pot, at least we had a seat at the poker table. That's more than a lot of counties ever get.

The best we can do is learn from this and prepare better for the next time big business looks our way. The worst we can do is make like a gopher tortoise and pull in our head and limbs when we hear a big noise nearby.

Wonder what we're going to do with all of these Indians' baseball caps?