That Time Arlington Made a Pitch for a Major League Baseball Team
Okay, make that five times…
In late September of 2004, nearly all of Washington, D.C., could be heard singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in celebration of baseball’s return to the nation’s capital. But across the river, there was no such party. For most of the decade prior, Arlington had been a regional favorite to score a franchise. “We were convinced that Major League Baseball was going to come to Arlington,” says Bill Collins, the onetime head of the Virginia Baseball Club. “Then, it didn’t.”
Arlington’s pursuit began in 1990 as MLB was looking to award new franchises to two cities. Collins, who had made his fortune in telecommunications, organized an investment group of Virginia businesspeople—including then-local tech exec Mark Warner—to make a bid. Their pitch: Northern Virginia’s burgeoning, high-income population could provide a whole new fan base, and proposed sites in Pentagon City offered easy access to major roads and Metro.
“We put together a pretty significant dog and pony show,” Collins recalls of their presentation to MLB’s expansion committee, complete with a stadium model, graphics and a dramatic video narrated by sportscaster James Brown. When Miami and Denver ultimately won out in 1993, he didn’t harbor any ill will. Those cities deserved teams, he reasoned, and Arlington had made an impression. Its time would come.
Sure enough, Northern Virginia was back in the game two years later when Arlington was declared one of four finalists for two MLB teams that would begin play during the 1998 season. But then it lost out again—this time, to Phoenix and Tampa Bay.
Later that same year, Collins was approached by Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, whose team, suffering financial difficulties, had, in a last-ditch effort, asked the city of Houston to help finance a new stadium. The two struck a backup deal, with McLane agreeing to sell the Astros to Collins for about $150 million, provided the Harris County stadium referendum failed. “[McLane] kept saying there was no way in hell it was going to pass,” says Collins, “until it did.” By a mere 16,000 votes.
Undeterred, Collins kept hustling. In 1999, he thought he had an agreement in place to buy the Montreal Expos from team president Claude Brochu and move it south. That deal fell through when Brochu parted ways with the Expos’ ownership group. Arlington was 0 for 4.
By 2003, MLB had bought the Expos with plans to relocate the team, and Arlington was once again a front-runner. A stadium design by the architecture firm HKS put a new stadium complex right on the Potomac with breathtaking views of D.C. Mark Warner, by then Virginia’s governor, publicly supported the bid. So did the Arlington County Board, led by newly appointed chairman Charles P. Monroe. The bases finally seemed loaded.
That is, until the morning of Jan. 11, when Monroe collapsed during his first meeting as chairman. He died later that day (of an aneurysm, at 46) as did the dream of bringing baseball to Arlington. By July, the county board had changed its tune and pulled Pentagon City out of the running, its rationale being that the land would be more profitable as a site for a conference center and hotel complex—an idea that never materialized.
Collins and the Virginia Baseball Club shifted their focus to a potential stadium site near Dulles airport, but it didn’t have quite the same appeal. A year later, baseball made its triumphant return to the District, while Virginia suffered a blow akin to losing in the playoffs in extra innings.
Does Collins attend Nats games today? “No,” he says. “I have no interest.”