Tavares oversees all aspects of move
WASHINGTON -- He has co-workers scattered in Montreal, Florida and the nation's capital, while his family is in Nevada. His office is borrowed space in a law firm while he awaits trailers in the parking lot of a ballpark.
And sometime next year, there's a good chance he'll be fired.
Without a doubt, there's never been a job in sports quite like the one held by Tony Tavares, president of the relocating Expos.
"So while I am physically and mentally engaged in this project, I am not going to get emotionally engaged," he said during an interview this week.
Besides, there's not much time for emotion. Tavares arrived in town not long after the Sept. 29 announcement by baseball commissioner Bud Selig that the Expos intended to move to the capital, but he has brought only one other employee with him for now. Most of the work force in Canada is being laid off because they would not be able to get visas to work in the United States.
"The toughest thing was to say goodbye to all those people in Canada that had worked, some of them, since the beginning of the franchise," Tavares said.
So a help-wanted call went out in the nation's capital last week. The new baseball team needs everything from secretaries to PR people. More than 300 applicants have responded.
Tickets? There's plenty of interest -- a prospective local ownership group led by businessman Fred Malek is sharing a list of 5,000 potential season-ticket buyers -- but Tavares is still working on a deal with a ticketing agency.
"We hope to have that finalized by the end of the week -- and that's two weeks beyond what I wanted it to be in the first place," Tavares said.
Another development will apparently happen more quickly than expected. It was originally believed that whoever buys the club, currently owned by the other 29 major-league teams, would be able to choose the team's name and colors and design the uniforms.
But the sale process is just beginning and will take months to complete. Tavares said the team needs a name now.
"I would hope that the decision will be made in the next 15 days or so," Tavares said. "You need to order business cards, stationary. We've got to start getting some retail out in the marketplace, do an image-build on the team. We can't be the 'Washington No-Names' and really sell that."
Tavares said Selig will have the final say on the name, likely using input from polls, focus groups, local officials and marketing experts. The new owners will have the right to petition to change the name.
Popular local nicknames include the Senators, Nationals, Grays and Monuments. The idea has also been floated to call the team the Washington Expos for a season and then let the new owners help pick a name.
"That is not an idea that has been warmed to by the populace in D.C.," Tavares said. "Out of all the ideas I've seen polled, they think that's the worst scenario out there. Their answer is, 'You used to be the Expos, now you're Washington's team and you should be named something that's appropriate to Washington.'"
Tavares must also plan the renovation of RFK Stadium, which hasn't been used regularly for baseball since 1971. RFK will be the team's home for just three years while a new ballpark is built, but it still requires major upgrades that can't take place until the year's final soccer game is played in mid-November.
"As they're moving out, we're breaking ground ... Outfield fencing, foul poles, backstops, bases, an infield -- we've got to extend the dugouts by at least 50 percent," Tavares said.
Tavares is aware of a movement within the city that is calling for the team to play permanently at RFK and thus save the cost of a new ballpark. Tavares said 43-year-old RFK is barely passable as a modern-day ballpark even on an interim basis.
"Is it workable? Yes," Tavares said. "I think people will enjoy themselves when they're there. Is it Camden Yards? Not even close."
Washington's deal with the Expos requires funding for a new stadium to be enacted by Dec. 31.
During the RFK renovations, the club's offices will be housed in trailers set up in the stadium's parking lot. Tavares will also spend a good deal of time at the Expos' spring training facility in Melbourne, Fla., where newly-hired general manager Jim Bowden will also work.
Tavares isn't fazed by the tenuous nature of his position. After all, the assignment was originally supposed to last just seven months when baseball hired him as Expos president before the 2002 season.
"It's turned into three years," Tavares said. "And I've had a lot of fun during those three years. I committed to the commissioner that I would see this through."
Would he be interested in staying around after the team is sold?
"It would really depend on who the new owners are," Tavares said. "If they have a sincere interest in bringing me on board, that's certainly going to play into it. I don't ever want to feel like I've been forced upon somebody."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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