Miami and Denver celebrated their all-but-certain acceptance by the National League on Monday with enthusiasm restrained only by the knowledge that, as noted baseball philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once advised: "It ain't over 'til it's over." As the recommended winners by virtue of their selection by the National League expansion committee, Miami and Denver are all but assured of beginning play in 1993.
"They obviously were the two most attractive choices," commissioner Fay Vincent said. "That speaks for itself. I don't think they'll have any problem. I think they will go through."
The cities and potential team owners still must be approved by the eight-man major-league ownership committee and by both leagues. The vote by the ownership committee could come as soon as Wednesday at the leagues' meetings in Santa Monica, Calif., with the full leagues' votes coming later. In any case, approval is expected to be routine.
"Obviously, we're very elated that we're one of the two cities recommended," said John A. Antonucci, managing general partner of the Colorado Baseball Partnership. "But at the same time, we're cautious. We don't anticipate any problems with the final vote. But it is one more hurdle to overcome.
"What we've heard in the past is that the National League will go with whatever the ownership committee recommends. We've heard absolutely nothing regarding the American League stance on it. We just feel this gives us more momentum going into the meetings. Fans in Denver, Colorado, and the whole region have wanted baseball for over 30 years. They deserve it, and now it looks like they're going to get it."
Denver Mayor Federico Pena said: "We only celebrated for about five minutes. I'd say we're rounding third base and heading for home, but we must continue to run with the same determination for the rest of the way."
H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. and would-be owner of the Miami team, also looked forward with cautious optimism. "We're elated to be in this position, but there is still no telling what the 26 owners might decide," he said. "The franchise hasn't been awarded yet. The sooner we could get the vote, the happier I would be."
He said he first found out last Friday that Miami was one of the two winners when the commissioner's office called to say that material would be sent out on Monday to the 26 existing teams. Was it difficult to keep from celebrating? "We're not ready to pop the champagne corks yet," Huizenga said. "There will be a time and place for all that."
Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez was most effusive in his reaction. "We're obviously rejoicing. It kind of gives a stamp of certification as a major city in the United States," he said. And Suarez couldn't refrain from taking a shot at Florida's two other expansion candidates.
"We have the Caribbean, which produces probably half of your players, and Panama, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela are all very important producers of talent," he said. "With all due respect to St. Petersburg, these people (Latin Americans) probably think that it's a Russian city. And as for Orlando, they might think it's the place to go to Disney World, but otherwise it's just somebody's first name, like Orlando Lopez or something."
Neither team has as yet selected a name, and either could use a city or state name _ Denver or Colorado; Miami, Florida or South Florida.
Huizenga said he hopes "to take advantage of being the state's team. We'll promote it as Florida's team, at least for the time being. Baseball has been moving in that direction recently. Teams are marketing themselves as regional teams more and more. You don't know what may happen in the future," meaning additional expansion or relocation of a team to another Florida city.
Denver gives major-league baseball its first team in the Mountain time zone, where there are 8.4-million television viewers. Denver's baseball officials say their team would draw fans from eight surrounding states, and Pittsburgh Pirates chairman Douglas Danforth, the head of the NL expansion committee, acknowledged recently that it will be far more than just a Denver franchise. "They have an opportunity for a regional franchise here," he said.
Funding is in place for a baseball-only, open-air, natural-grass stadium near downtown Denver. Until it is ready, probably in 1995, the team will play in Mile High Stadium, home of the NFL's Broncos.
The NFL's Miami Dolphins, too, will share their ballpark. Huizenga owns 15 percent of the Dolphins and 50 percent of Joe Robbie Stadium, which was renovated last year to accommodate baseball. Crowds of 67,654 (a major-league spring training record) and 57,359 attended two exhibition games last March.
Tim Robbie, president of the Dolphins, said Huizenga was the key to winning the franchise. "Baseball has been very impressed with him. He has the financial clout and vision baseball was looking for."
The teams will get their first players in June 1992 when they participate in the amateur draft of high school and college players. They will get major-leaguers from an expansion draft following the 1992 season.
Each current major-league club will contribute three players to the expansion pool, Vincent ruled last week. He also decided the AL would get $42-million of the $190-million in expansion money.
_ Correspondent Randy Cremer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
MIAMI AT A GLANCE
Population: 4.5-million in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area.
Stadium: Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the NFL Miami Dolphins. More than $10-million was spent to make multi-purpose facility suitable for baseball. There are 46,000 prime seats for baseball, but an exhibition game drew a sellout crowd of 67,654 this year.
Ownership: H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of the board of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp.
Estimated ownership worth: $500-million. A drop in Blockbuster stock recently cost Huizenga $115-million on paper, but the price rebounded later to enable him to regain $40-million in stock value.
Team name: Not determined.
Team colors: Not determined.
Miami's baseball history: Effort to get a team gained momentum when Huizenga entered the picture. Minor-league teams have not enjoyed much success in Miami.
DENVER AT A GLANCE
Population: 500,000 in the city and 1.8-million in the metropolitan area.
Stadium: The team would play in 75,000-seat Mile High Stadium the first two years. Voters have approved construction of a 43,000-seat, baseball-only stadium (Coors Field) in downtown Denver for occupancy in 1995.
Ownership: John A. Antonucci, 37, managing general partner, is chief operating officer of Superior Beverage, a large beer and wine distributor in Ohio. Michael "Mickey" Monus, 43, managing general partner, is founder and president of Phar-Mor Inc., a Youngstown-based discount drugstore chain. Steve Ehrhart, 44, managing general partner, is an attorney and commissioner of the World Basketball League. The largest investor is the Adolph Coors Co., with a financial commitment in excess of $30-million. Other general partners are John R. Antonucci, Nathan Monus and Cary Teraji.
Estimated ownership worth: Total financing capability of $140-million.
Team name: Not determined.
Team colors: Purple as primary color; secondary colors to be decided.
Denver's baseball history: A tradition of minor-league baseball dating to 1886.