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Baseball On Deck Again

Ferguson’s letter not the last word on possible ballpark.

Two weeks ago, county board chair Paul Ferguson took his shot at baseball, trying to end the debate over whether Arlington should become the new home for the Montreal Expos. This week, baseball supporters fired back.

In a July 17 letter addressed to Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority Chairman Michael Frey, Ferguson requested that the county be removed from consideration for the site of a new 42,500-seat ballpark. Three of the five potential sites are in Arlington—two in Pentagon City and one in Rosslyn

Stadium Authority officials met in closed session Thursday, July 24 to discuss site selection. Afterwards, Frey released a statement reaffirming the site selection process and denying Ferguson’s request.

“The Authority believes it is important to continue evaluating all potential sites so that we can make the best possible recommendations to Major League Baseball as the relocation process approaches its conclusion,” Frey said. “Consequently, we are not removing any sites from consideration at this time.”

Ferguson said he wasn’t surprised by the Authority’s decision, but said baseball fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. “I thought [my] statement was very clear that we have no intention of changing the land use plan for a stadium,” said Ferguson.

Nevertheless, state law requires the board to accept an application from the Authority if they can persuade Major League Baseball owners to award a team to the Commonwealth and can acquire a site in the county.

Those are two huge “ifs,” Ferguson said.

ENCOURAGED BY FREY’S statement, local stadium supporters are stepping up their efforts, and their attacks on Ferguson. Protesters attended a Saturday fundraiser for Ferguson and board member Walter Tejada, and also spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Baseball supporters also unveiled “NIMBY,” a six-foot tall chicken they’re calling the new mascot for the county board.

How those efforts will affect the baseball debate remains to be seen, but opponents are proceeding as though the issue isn’t over.

“I never did see the grassroots movement [of stadium proponents] slow up,” said Summerville, leader of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition. “We’re still very much engaged in our own grassroots movement.”

Summerville, who is challenging Ferguson in the November election, criticized the way he reached his decision. The matter should have been discussed in a public session, with an official board vote, that might have carried more legal weight, Summerville said.

“The county board, all they did was have this behind-closed-doors non-meeting, and write a letter,” said Tom Brook, co-chair of the Arlington Baseball Coalition. “That has no legal effect. Clearly if a proposal comes forward, the county board is going to have to deal with it.”

FERGUSON DOWNPLAYED the criticism he has received since he wrote the letter to Frey. Summerville’s objection is simply a political maneuver, Ferguson said, and many people have sent letters and e-mails thanking him for taking a stand.

But the board chair is feeling the heat from more sides than one. Baseball supporters are vowing to step up their efforts.

And Tuesday morning, Gov. Mark Warner (D) expressed hopes that Ferguson will rethink his position, and called Ferguson’s opposition to baseball “unfortunate.” Warner has been a major proponent of baseball in the Commonwealth since he was a member of the investors group hoping to purchase the Expos.

“It’s not over,” said Brian Hannigan, a spokesperson for the Stadium Authority. “We have the continued support of the governor.”