Expos would get nautical name

If Major League Baseball decides next month to move the Montreal Expos to Norfolk, the game could have its first franchise with a military theme.

Sure, there are the Atlanta Braves and their fans' tomahawk chop. But that concept is based on John Wayne Westerns, not reality.

The Norfolk Baseball Company--the group trying to bring the Expos to Hampton Roads--has one logo that features a U.S. Navy battleship and another with an anchor.

The most likely name for the team if it moves to Navy-dominated Hampton Roads: Norfolk Steamers--not after the coffee, after the ship.

The Norfolk Baseball Company's idea for the ballpark has it nestled on the oceanfront like a fort protecting the city with Navy-style guns on the roof that would shoot confetti when the Steamers team hits a home run.

The proposed name for the ballpark: USS Cole Memorial Field.

The two top men in the would-be ownership group--William Somerindyke Jr. and Jason Osborne--are Navy brats.

And the pro-Navy concept would seem to be a means to gain the affection of transient Navy personnel and their families who would probably be fans of other teams in their hometowns. Somerindyke, CEO of the Norfolk Baseball Company, said this week that some 75 luxury suites and more than 5,000 season tickets have been reserved during a recent sales campaign designed to impress baseball officials.

More likely to impress the lords of the game is the Norfolk financing plan.

Norfolk would benefit from the same state-financing package that a Northern Virginia group is using to try to lure baseball. That would cover about two-thirds of ballpark construction costs.

The rest, Somerindyke said in an interview this week, would come from tax funds that had been set aside in a failed effort to try to bring the NBA's Charlotte Hornets to Norfolk.

"No one else has a stadium financing package as attractive as ours," he said.

Norfolk is competing with Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore. and Monterrey, Mexico, for the team.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams wants a $20 million a year tax hike on businesses to pay for the stadium he's proposing in downtown Washington. The D.C. Council has said it will not vote on any stadium proposal until MLB promises the city a team. MLB has said it will not award anyone the franchise unless a ballpark financing plan is already in place.

Norfolk's Somerindyke pointed out that there are 3 million people within a 100-mile radius including Hampton Roads, northeast North Carolina and Richmond.

Still, Hampton Roads doesn't stack up well with population and median incomes in D.C. and Northern Virginia. Those localities have more people within a 40-mile radius than Norfolk does within 100 miles.

But, Somerindyke argued, the Norfolk bid has stronger area political support than any other locality. And he notes, it's far away from the Baltimore Orioles.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has opposed the idea of a team in the D.C. area, but last week gave his blessing to Norfolk. And, he points out, it's booming and continuing to grow.

Norfolk has some major problems, however.

Like Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads is a traffic nightmare. And the Hampton Roads area has a reputation for failing to support minor league franchises including the Norfolk Tides Class AAA baseball team.

Last month, Virginian-Pilot sports columnist Tom Robinson pooh-poohed the idea of baseball owners awarding Norfolk the Expos.

"They're not," he wrote, "unless big-league baseball actually passes on the baseball-ready gold mine waiting in Washington, D.C., the Peter Angelos factor notwithstanding.

"They're not unless baseball is ready to defy political influence that's said to extend all the way to the former baseball owner sitting in the Oval Office," Robinson continued.

"They're not unless baseball is prepared to be lambasted for choosing instead a marginal sports market with an ocean to the east, sparse population to the south, thin corporate muscle, lousy roads, little stomach for its skeletal public transportation and constant tunnel follies," Robinson wrote.

"Speaking of the latter, you Richmonders being counted on to support our team: If you're coming to that big Friday night Expos-Cubs game next July, leave now."

Somerindyke believes the award of the team would spur the region to build a light-rail system to alleviate some of the traffic problems.

And, he said, the ownership group is not counting on Richmonders to brave the traffic regularly--just a few times a summer.

If they do, perhaps they'll receive a 21-gun confetti salute.

To reach MICHAEL ZITZ: 540/374-5408 mikez@freelancestar.com

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