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Capital celebrates baseball's return

It was more pep rally than news conference, with the mayor and city officials wearing red Washington Senators caps, the ones with the curly "W" on the front.

"After 30 years of waiting and waiting and waiting," said Mayor Anthony Williams, adding dramatic pauses for emphasis, "and lots of hard work and more than a few prayers, there will be baseball in Washington in 2005!"

Baseball returned to the capital after 33 years Wednesday, with an announcement from Major League Baseball that the Montreal Expos will move to Washington next season.

The announcement came one day before the anniversary of the Senators' final game. The team moved to Texas after the 1971 season, the last time a team moved.

"It's a day when the sun is setting in Montreal, but it's rising in Washington," Expos president Tony Tavares told a news conference in Montreal.

The relocation is subject to certain contingencies, including a vote by owners in November and passage of legislation by the Washington City Council to build a ballpark on the Anacostia River waterfront, south of the Capitol.

"There has been tremendous growth in the Washington, D.C., area over the last 33 years, and we in Major League Baseball believe that baseball will be welcomed there and will be a great success," commissioner Bud Selig said.

The team will play for three seasons at RFK Stadium while a ballpark is built. The first home game will be April 15 against the Diamondbacks, according to the draft 2005 schedule that has been circulated to major-league teams. The team opens the season April 4 at Philadelphia.

Eager fans arrived early for the announcement at Washington's City Museum. A petition was circulated to name the team the "Washington Grays" in tribute to the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that played in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s. Despite his cap, Williams said he doesn't want to recycle the Senators name for political reasons; Washington doesn't have voting representation in the U.S. Senate.

Baseball has been looking for a home for the Expos since the financially troubled team was bought by the other 29 owners in 2002. Washington took the lead in recent weeks, strengthened by its wealthy population base and a financial package that would build a new stadium primarily with taxpayers' money.

A crucial hurdle was cleared this week when baseball reached an understanding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who had objected to having a team move 40 miles from Camden Yards.

Under the deal baseball is negotiating with Angelos, an appraiser would value the Orioles franchise, and the commissioner's office would guarantee its value for a period of time, the Associated Press reported.

The commissioner's office also would guarantee Baltimore's locally generated revenue for a period of time and assist in the creation of a regional sports network, AP reported.

Selig called the relocation an "arduous, very, very difficult" process.

"We don't want to hurt existing franchises," the commissioner said. "On the other hand, we want to go to the best place we can go to."

The process of selling the Expos starts. A group that includes former Rangers partner Fred Malek has been seeking a Washington franchise for five years, but several other bidders are expected to show interest.