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Group seeking to buy Twins needs time more than money
by Neal St. Anthony, Jim Souhan and Robert Whereatt

With major league baseball planning to buy out two clubs as early as next week, time -- not money -- is the first obstacle for Twin Cities business executives who are scrambling to form a group to buy the Minnesota Twins and present a stadium-financing plan to the 2002 Legislature.

The team moves closer to elimination each day, and there are few signs of progress in efforts to save it. It will probably take luck and lawsuits to buy the time that attorney Mike Ciresi, businessman Vance Opperman and others say they need to respond to last month's decision to kill two teams.

The Twins and the Montreal Expos are considered the leading candidates for elimination among the 30 major league teams.

"Litigation is an option," said Ciresi, chairman of the Minneapolis firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. "We need time." He noted that litigation won't provide the final solution.

Nevertheless, litigation is a critical part of the strategy to at least postpone contraction, baseball's term for eliminating teams. On Monday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he has asked baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to give the Twin Cities a year to come up with a plan.

In Washington, D.C., Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., planned a news conference for today to announce that they're introducing a bill to limit baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws.

Although he declined to endorse the bill because he hadn't studied it yet, Daschle views it as "a symbol of how seriously the U.S. Senate is taking this issue," said Rodell Mollineau, his spokesman.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Reps. Betty McCollum and Martin Sabo, Democrats from Minnesota, plan to attend the news conference to promote the Fairness in Antitrust in National Sports (FANS) Act. It would make the elimination or relocation of a baseball team subject to antitrust laws.

Wellstone and Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., wrote to President Bush last week, urging him to support the bill. But the White House hasn't weighed in, saying it would be premature to do so.

On Thursday, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, plans to ask a Hennepin County district judge to prevent Major League Baseball and the Twins from pursuing contraction and order the Twins to honor their one-year lease at the Metrodome in 2002.

State Attorney General Mike Hatch has threatened to sue baseball owners to stop elimination of the Twins and strip them of their exemption to antitrust laws that permits them to collaborate on business-related issues.

Possible investors

Ciresi said he and Opperman have received many overtures from possible investors in the Twins and gotten encouragement from government officials in the Twin Cities.

"Ask me at the end of the week," Ciresi said of who lead investors might be. "There are people from here and people from outside of Minnesota."

Ciresi, a millionaire, said that he may be a minority investor in the Twins or a stadium, but that he doesn't plan to be a major investor or executive.

He declined to comment on whether Glen Taylor, the owner of the National Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves, is involved. Taylor, whose $100 million-plus offer was rebuffed a couple of years ago by Twins owner Carl Pohlad, has remained silent on his interest in the Twins. He did not return a call Monday.

For those working to save the Twins, here's why time is of the essence: Selig has told reporters he hopes to name the two teams to be eliminated by late November, and the owners' lawyers have been quoted as saying they want to hold a dispersal draft of players from the affected teams during the owners' meetings in Boston from Dec. 9 to 13.

Selig says relocation or stalling team elimination aren't viable options.

"No, because we've talked about all the solutions available," he said.

He also said he would balk at allowing the two teams to play lame-duck seasons in 2002.

The Major League Baseball Players Association reacted to Selig's announcement about contraction with a strong statement from union head Donald Fehr and has assured players that the union thinks teams won't be eliminated before the 2002 season.

"We still believe we're going to be playing in Minnesota next year," said Twins union representative Denny Hocking.

The Players Association filed a grievance last Wednesday, arguing that elimination would violate its labor contract.

Task force named

Gov. Jesse Ventura's office on Tuesday named its six members of an 18-member task force that is to study options for baseball and football stadiums, said John Wodele, the governor's spokesman.

State House and Senate leaders named their members last Thursday.

Last week, state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he wants the task force meeting before Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 22.

Sen. Roy Terwilliger, R-Edina, a task force member and an advocate of a new baseball stadium, said Tuesday that he believes that public opposition for a partly subsidized stadium has diminished.

But Ventura and legislators need to lead, he said.

The Legislature's next session won't begin until Jan. 29, but Terwilliger, a sponsor of a bill for a $300 million open-air baseball stadium, said he still has hope. "It's not a done deal yet," he said.

Unlike Gov. Arne Carlson, who in 1997 led the Twins' charge for a new stadium, Ventura has taken a hands-off approach.

Last week he reminded Minnesotans that he campaigned on a pledge of opposing the use of state tax money for a stadium. But he cracked the door, saying that a user tax, such as a ticket tax, might be acceptable.

"The trouble the governor is having now is seeing a way out," Wodele said. "It looks very difficult with contraction. What are we supposed to do? Does somebody have a magic bullet?"

Many businesspeople and legislators have said they believe that new ownership, after several years of futile attempts by Pohlad to get public financing for a stadium, is critical.

Attorney Ciresi; Paul Grangaard, a Piper Jaffray executive and investment banker, and Paul Ostrow, a Minneapolis City Council member, say they are confident that a stadium deal that includes some private financing and provides some sort of "return" for public financing is doable.