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ColinSuperCool

Detroit Expos?

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Detroit Expos? Now, that's a good one

Web-posted Jun 13, 2004

By JIM HAWKINS

Of The Daily Oakland Press

Personally, I think it is a preposterous pipe dream. But if you're going to hallucinate, I guess you might as well go whole hog.

A group of anonymous multimillionaires, none of whom want their names in the paper at this point because they don't want to be embarrassed if their hare-brained scheme doesn't get off the ground, propose to buy the displaced Montreal Expos - with the backing of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to the tune of $1 billion over the next 100 years and the support of 200 million Hispanics who presumably would chip in $10 to $100 apiece - and move the orphaned Expos to abandoned Tiger Stadium, which would henceforth be known as "The Coliseum of Baseball."

Far-fetched as it may sound, believe it or not - and, until today it has been one of the best-kept secrets in baseball - there actually is just such a proposal on the table.

One which would pit the hallowed corner of Michigan and Trumbull, surrounded now by dilapidation and weeds, against Washington D.C., with its monuments and political might, burgeoning Northern Virginia with its big bucks, Las Vegas with its bright lights and clanging slot machines, Portland, Ore., with its promise for the future, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Monterrey, Mexico, with their rabid fans and international appeal.

In the minds of Nikco Riesgo - a 37-year-old former seven at-bat big leaguer (Expos, 1991) who is now a banker and the spokesman/strategist for Global Baseball Inc. - and his silent partners, it makes perfect sense.

"If it wasn't for the fact the stadium is in limbo and the Expos are sitting there in limbo, we wouldn't be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together," declared Riesgo, who claims his partners include several as-yet-unnamed major leaguers. "But the pieces of the puzzle are out there."

According to Riesgo, GBI would sell the naming rights to renovated Tiger Stadium to the automotive Big Three - how does "The GM-Ford-Chrysler Coliseum of Baseball" sound? - for $10 million a year for the next 100 years.

"They (the automakers) are open to it," Riesgo said. "They're waiting to see what happens. Ten million a year isn't asking too much when leveraged over 100 years."

Excuse my skepticism, but how come the Tigers were only able to get $60 million over 30 years to call their new park Comerica?

Riesgo and his partners would then liquidate that contract with foreign banks to raise the $500 million needed to make the implausible scenario a reality.

But that's not all. "We plan on getting Hispanics and minorities to help support the funding of the team with private memberships," Riesgo explained. "We're excited about the opportunity to have over 200 million Hispanics possibly pay $10 to $100 a year in private memberships to help support a minority-owned baseball team."

Sounds like a pie in the sky to me.

"A lot of this is not cash out of our pockets," Riesgo acknowledged. "A lot of our proposal is really unique."

All of this, of course, is assuming Major League Baseball can't find anyplace else to dump the Expos, the automakers play along and Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch can be made to see the beauty, and the profitability, of Riesgo's plan.

But baseball is hell-bent on peddling the Expos to a city that is willing to build a new state-of-the-art stadium at taxpayer expense.

Of the seven candidates currently vying for the right to permanently house the wandering Expos, only the Detroit Plan proposes to make permanent use of an existing big league ballpark.

And never mind the fact that, many years, Detroit has barely been able to support one major league team, let alone two.

"Obviously it's not a slam dunk," Riesgo admitted.

"We're kind of waiting for Major League Baseball to make some decision on opening up the market place, instead of just limiting it to cities that are going to build brand new stadiums" he explained. "Right now, they're kind of fishing for the gold."

According to Riesgo, Detroit is an escape hatch, the last option, in case everything else falls through. "If baseball can't get a new stadium somewhere, this provides an opportunity to at least have some kind of exit solution," he said.

So why, until now - with a decision promised next month - has Detroit's name never been mentioned as a possible new home for the Expos?

"I've asked MLB about that," Riesgo said, "and they basically said they don't write the articles or endorse any of the articles. Those come from local writers like yourself.

"Major League Baseball can't come out and say Detroit is a great, viable city when they're not asking the city to build a $300 million new stadium. That would almost be like talking out of two sides of their face.

"They're focusing on trying to lure some funds to build a new stadium. That's their first and primary goal. That's the only way they see the team surviving - in a new stadium somewhere.

"Our position," Riesgo continued, "is that a team can survive without a new stadium when you have a classic, historic stadium sitting there in ruins, almost like the Field of Dreams.

"What better way to celebrate the (2005) All-Star game here in Detroit than having some Detroit Expos playing in the game and the cameras showcasing the restored stadium?"

And what about Ilitch, who has a contract with the city of Detroit to maintain vacant Tiger Stadium, and who, as the owner of the Tigers, might understandably be adamantly against the idea of another big league baseball team next door - just as Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos is outspokenly opposed to relocating the Expos in his backyard in Washington?

"We want to sit down (with the Ilitch organization) and look eye- to-eye and have a discussion - but we've been ignored," Riesgo said. "They're not openly saying they're against anything. But they're not willing to sit down and hear how we want to help them and help the marketplace.

"This is not about taking dollars out of their pocket, because they're a big part of that stadium. We think it's actually about putting more dollars in their pocket. Two teams would spark a fanatical fan base where both teams would be sold out. Both teams would have a quest to get to the World Series and play each other. It would be a great atmosphere for baseball."

That's one way to look at it, I guess. But you can certainly understand why Ilitch and the Tigers might not agree.

Riesgo estimates it would take at least $50 million just to get Tiger Stadium ready for major league play again. "That would just cover the basic essentials, the modernization and work that is needed for the first year," he said. Modernization would then continue on an annual basis.

GBI expects to have to pay "upwards of $200 million" to baseball's owners to purchase the Expos and another $200 million for players' salaries, operations, a farm system and promotions in order to put a team on the field next year.

Total start-up cost: About $500 million.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for the city and the community - if we can all rally together, make some noise, and get major league baseball's attention," Riesgo declared.

"It looks gloom and doom. We haven't had a lot of attention. But I'm fired up. I'm excited. I'm passionate. I'm the ultimate optimist."

The Detroit Expos? I wouldn't hold my breath.

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wolverine    0

I thought you couldn't have two MLB teams that close together in a city. Comerica Park and Tiger Stadium are like what, a half mile away from each other? Do they plan to spend another billion on moving Tiger Stadium.errrr..."Big Three" Stadium?

But what the hell, you can always dream. I'd say it'd be a big boost for the D.

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Allan    0

You can have two teams in the same city. I don't see this happening though, especially given that there are so many other large cities without teams. This would provide a boost to Detroit. Many people predicted that baseball leaving Corktown would kill the neighborhood. Fortunately Corktown seems to be doing just fine without the Tigers. After the Tigers left Corktown, some of the parking lot owners finally sold out to developers, producing some new projects in the city's oldest neighborhood.

Of course there is still the debate that's been going on for years: what to do with Tiger Stadium. They've talked about lofts, a museum, retail, & a Walmart (I'm glad that one never happened)...but nothing has ever gotten done.

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