The National League visited south Florida and Orlando Monday, beginning its inspection of the six cites vying for the two franchises that will be added for the 1993 season.
NL President Bill White and the league's expansion committee members took part in the inspection. Bill Giles, president of the Philadelphia Phillies; Douglas Danforth, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Fred Wilpon, president of the New York Mets, will visit St. Petersburg and its Suncoast Dome Tuesday."We have seen no serious negatives that would give us concern about awarding a franchise here," Danforth, speaking at a news conference at Joe Robbie Stadium, said of Monday's inspection.
Visits to Buffalo, Denver and Washington, the other finalists, have not been scheduled but are expected in March. The league said it will select the two new teams as early as June and no later than September.
Major league baseball has said it would like to place its new franchises in stadiums that were built for baseball only. Joe Robbie Stadium was built for football, but with accommodations for baseball.
Orlando has no stadium at the moment and that is seen as a negative. St. Petersburg's dome was built for baseball, but the league has said it would prefer an outdoor facility with a grass field.
Buffalo and Washington have stadiums, and Denver has passed a sales tax which would be invoked to build a ball park if a franchise is granted.
The size of the markets in Buffalo and Denver are seen as drawbacks, and Washington's two earlier franchises were moved.
Wayne Huizenga, who is bidding for the south Florida franchise by himself, owns half of Joe Robbie Stadium. The other half belongs to the late Robbie's family.
They have made several changes in the stadium to make it suitable for baseball. The stands along one side of the football field have been taken down to make room for left field.
Dugouts have been nearly completed, and a diamond including a pitching mound has been installed. The alterations were made for the benefit of the committee, but will be used March 30-31 for two exhibition games between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. The final price tag will be $10 million.
Danforth said the committee suggested a roof on the left-field stands and moving box seats closer to the foul lines.
"I think the stadium is acceptable," Giles said. "It's not perfect, but the thing that I'm impressed with is the parking lot and the ingress and egress - getting in and out of the parking lot. I think it would be the best in baseball if south Florida gets one of the francises."
Wilpon and White also met with H.T. Smith, the leader of a black boycott against conventions in the Miami area called as the result of the behavior of local officials toward South African leader Nelson Mandela when he visited last year.
Smith also represents families, many of them black, who live near the stadium and have opposed of its construction since its beginning five years ago because of the disruption to the neighborhood.
Smith wrote a letter to the four committee members asking them to take Miami out of consideration until another stadium is chosen, until blacks are included in the ownership package and until the boycott is settled.
But Smith said later he was so pleased with the discussion he canceled plans to hire an airplane to fly over the stadium while the committee was there. He said it would have towed a banner saying, "No baseball at JRS."
"I was pleasantly surprised at their receptivity to the problems and concerns of the African-American community surrounding the stadium and their commitment to minority participation in any of the franchises awarded," Smith said.
"We listened to his ideas and told him our ideas and we hope he came away a little more aware of what baseball wants," White said.