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Alabama businessman hoping to buy Twins
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Alabama businessman Donald Watkins has made official his intentions to buy the contraction-targeted Minnesota Twins.

Watkins, who would become baseball's first black owner, visited Twins fans at the Mall of America on Saturday. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Monday he would meet with baseball's ownership committee on Jan. 10.

A phone call to his office Tuesday morning by The Associated Press was unanswered. Team officials were also unavailable for comment.

The Twins and Montreal Expos are widely believed to be the two teams baseball wants to get rid of before 2002. But with spring training drawing ever closer, an injunction compelling the team to fulfill its lease in the Metrodome and play ball next year remains a major roadblock. A court hearing on that issue is set for Thursday morning.

Watkins was also interested in buying the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but an overwhelming response from Twins fans helped to ultimately make up his mind. He said he received more than 4,000 e-mails since Thanksgiving from supportive fans.

"I'm going to work my butt off to match the level of passion they've shown me in the last four weeks," Watkins said.

He said the Twins' 41-year history also helped sway him.

"You can't let that kind of spirited competitive energy go unrewarded, especially when it makes good business sense," Watkins said.

Vance Opperman, a minority owner of the Minnesota Wild and a leader of the local effort to keep the Twins in Minnesota, said he and other potential buyers will be anxious to see how Watkins' efforts play out.

"If he can't get it done," Opperman said, "I hope we can find out quickly so we have a chance."

Watkins said he believes the Twins are one of two teams baseball has marked for elimination, as widely reported since commissioner Bud Selig announced the plan on Nov. 6. Watkins said he also understands Pohlad has an agreement with baseball to sell the team at an arranged price, possibly $150 million.

Watkins said he will pay for a new stadium for the Twins himself if he is able to buy the team.

Twins president Jerry Bell has said he believes a new ballpark would erase the possibility of contracting the team. He said he will wait for advice from baseball's front office before dealing with Watkins.

Watkins has not revealed his financial information, but a USA Today report valued his worth at about $1.5 billion.