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Bank chairman still after Rays

As Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo lifted the World Series championship trophy Nov. 4, Donald Watkins was thinking of doing the same with the Rays.

"I think that we can have a championship team in a relatively short period of time in Tampa Bay," he said. "When that occurs, you won't be able to find any of the naysayers."

Despite the intended contraction of two or more franchises by Major League Baseball, Watkins remains serious about buying the Rays.

The 53-year-old chairman and majority owner of Alamerica Bank in Birmingham, Ala., said he expects to hear from JP Morgan _ the investment banking firm hired by the Rays in August to find buyers for all or part of the team _ by the end of this week regarding his initial application filed Sept. 6.

Watkins' next step, if approved, would be to examine the team's financial records.

"I think that the Tampa organization is a wonderful business opportunity," he said. "I would have to purchase it at the right price. Right now I don't know what that price would be since I have not seen their financials.

"I would have to reinvest in the team over a sustained period of time in order to build it up on the playing field and to tighten it up in the front office. I think it's an undervalued asset and I have a specific turnaround plan for it."

John Higgins, Rays senior vice president of finance, declined to comment about Watkins when reached Wednesday.

Watkins, an attorney and member of the Alabama State University board of trustees since 1994 whose net worth is estimated at $1.5-billion, according to USA Today, might be exactly what MLB is searching for in a new owner.

"I think the fact that I'm a minority is just an incidental benefit for Major League Baseball," he said. "It's not what's driving me. When I put substantial money in business enterprises, I'm doing it to create some value for me and my family that can be passed on for generations."

If the Rays are a contraction candidate, Watkins said he hopes to speak with commissioner Bud Selig before any decision is made.

He also expressed an interest in saving the Expos or Twins or taking the Angels off Disney's hands.

"My first preference is the Devil Rays, but I intend to play in this game," Watkins said. "If it's not the Devil Rays, I'll pursue an opportunity with one of the other teams.

"Informally I have made that known to the ownership structure of a couple of the other teams. I'll decline to identify them. But my primary focus right now is on the Devil Rays. All the work I've done has been in respect to the Devil Rays."

MAY HIRED: Hal McRae didn't even have to leave the neighborhood during his search for a new hitting coach.

"I really didn't have a long list of coaches in mind," the Rays manager said.

McRae completed his coaching staff Wednesday by hiring 51-year-old Milt May, a fellow Bradenton resident and former colleague in the Pirates organization, to take the job Wade Boggs vacated Oct. 25.

May served as the Pirates' minor-league hitting coordinator last season and spent 12 seasons under Jim Leyland as a big-league hitting coach (Pittsburgh, 1987-96; Florida, 1997-98).

A shortstop at St. Petersburg High before the Pirates drafted him in 1968, May will have his work cut out for him. The Rays finished last in the American League in homers (121), runs (672) and RBI (645) and second to last in batting average (.258).

"It worked out perfectly," said May, who played 15 seasons as a catcher for the Pirates, Astros, Tigers, White Sox and Giants. "It's a great opportunity. The fact it's my home just makes it that much better."

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