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Let's explore our remaining option

Like a bat out of hell, baseball's "Dear John" conked Tampa Bay over its civic head. Two's company, and we're third. Denver wins! Miami wins! We're left to weep and wonder. Tampa Bay has been wronged, perhaps by wilting investors, and maybe even by the game itself. There's no joy in Mudville, or around here. After 15 years, and $150-million in expenditures including the building of a 43,000-seat dome, Tampa Bay's sporting heart is fractured again.

Teased by the possible coming of the Chicago White Sox, and then again during the National League's ridiculously long expansion process, we remain team-less.

Hopeless? Not just yet.

I'm aching, I'm burning, I feel shortchanged, but damned if I'm quitting. Damned if we're quitting. Tampa Bay deserves major-league baseball, and we should this morning begin heated chase of a troubled-and-moveable existing franchise.

We will lavishly support it. Alongside I-275 in St. Petersburg, a major-league ballpark sits all but ready. Tampa Bay has the market, plus the pulsating baseball interest.

So what's missing here?

We should cease entrusting our financing of sports to outsiders, from places like Washington and Milwaukee and Detroit. Tampa got a National Hockey League franchise when its neighbor from St. Petersburg bumbled. At the 11th hour, supposedly solid financing by Compuware Corp. of Detroit turned to silly putty.

Now comes Monday's baseball slap, and somebody's got to convince me I shouldn't feel badly at Sidney and Allen Kohl, brothers from Milwaukee and Palm Beach worth hundreds of millions of dollars who appear to have left Tampa Bay as the wallflower at the expansion dance.

Maybe I should've never expected the Kohls to be in for $40-million-plus, as No. 1 financiers of Tampa Bay's attempt. Then, when it counted, and the National League was talking cash on the table, Sidney and Allen pledged much less.

Were baseball decision makers offended by the Kohls' declining commitment? Wonder what Bud Selig thinks. The Milwaukee Brewers owner, a lifelong chum of Sidney and Allen, had strongly pushed the Kohls as potential Tampa Bay owners.

But, for St. Pete and its Florida Suncoast Dome, it sadly became Compuware II. Another failure. Thankfully, Tampa wound up getting us an NHL team. Baseball, having sent NL roses to Denver and Miami, must be pressed by Tampa Bay for another chance, as locale of a transferred franchise.

Life does go on . . .

I suggest we forget the Kohls of the world, and the Compuwares. Clearly, we've been burned. I'd sooner bank on a good neighbor. Steve Porter of Washington and his cousin, Joel Schur of New York and Beverly Hills, were anointed by Major League Baseball as Tampa Bay's ownership group. On Monday, our dividends became painfully apparent.

Not even the most provincial nabob should blame Monday's expansion flameout on (a) Tampa Bay pinning its baseball hope on a domed stadium instead of a traditional open-air ballpark or (b) the St. Petersburg location of that $138-million facility, the Florida Suncoast Dome.

That's hokum/hogwash.

Now, of course, we must quell our anger, wipe away any tears and plunge immediately into romancing Tampa Bay's remaining baseball option. We must locate an existing American or National League franchise _ a Seattle, a Cleveland, a Montreal or whatever _ plus a team owner who's in the market to sell and/or move. It's not a sure thing, but baseball leaders are hinting that chances are good, especially in the AL.

Baseball owes us one.

If a strong case can be made for stealing Cleveland's team or Seattle's, including evidence of poor chances of success in their current locales, would Major League Baseball then opt to drive another stake in Tampa Bay's heart by flatly denying it?

I refuse to believe that.

Tampa Bay should assemble an all-Floridians ownership organization. Mark Bostick, the Auburndale trucking millionaire, is a sensible starting point. He became a part of the Porter-Schur group, but don't hold that against him. Bostick is of strong Florida stock. A young man rich enough, dedicated enough and willing enough to lead the pursuit. Tampa Bay needs to sign up six more like him, and there won't be a Compuware III.

But, in passing around blame for Tampa Bay's expansion misfire, let's save a share for NL poobahs. Packets were sent by Federal Express to owners of 26 franchises, outlining the choice of Miami-Denver. It revealed a Denver debt factor regarding the $95-million franchise fee that was similar to Tampa Bay's proposal. Also, Miami ownership stud Wayne Huizenga, who vowed to pay the $95-mil in cash, has in reality reserved a right to incur debt.

So what decided it?

Politics?

Expansion committee chairman Doug Danforth seemed continually blind to any Miami shortcoming, be it the area's hot and thundery summer weather or recent Huizenga financial reversals or difficulties with Joe Robbie Stadium. Makes you wonder. But, however fair, that's over now.

On with our remaining option.

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