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'Fan power' inspsires Watkins to bid for Twins
by Gregory A. Patterson

It was "fan power" that drove the Minnesota Twins to the top spot on Alabama businessman Donald Watkins' list in his bid to acquire a Major League Baseball team.

"The Twins have just stolen his heart," said Sharon Childs-Long, his chief spokeswoman. "He has decided that he wants the Twins, as a result of the effort by the Twins fans," she said.

Watkins is taking the week off to rest and prepare for his meeting with Major League Baseball officials in New York on Jan. 10, Childs-Long said. "He will make it clear during his meeting that the Twins are his first choice."

That's a big change for Watkins, who in late summer surfaced as a potential bidder for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team. Shortly afterward, Major League Baseball disclosed that it planned to "contract" by acquiring and closing two baseball franchises -- assumed to be the Twins and the Montreal Expos. That sent many Twins fans to Watkins as a potential savior of the franchise.

Interest in and support for a Watkins bid to buy the Twins continues. Since Monday, Watkins has received about 200 e-mails from Twins fans regarding his interest in the team, Childs-Long said.

She also explained that Watkins has not been in touch with any potential local buyers who might be interested in joining his bid for the Twins. Though some may have tried to contact Watkins, Childs-Long said he has kept focused on preparations to meet with Major League Baseball officials. The time for considering any other investors will come after that meeting, Childs-Long said.

Watkins is not planning to attend the daylong "listening session" that will be conducted by the Minnesota Legislature's stadium task force on Jan. 3.

Childs-Long said the Watkins camp doesn't know how the flirtation between it and Twins fans will affect baseball's contraction plans. "I do know that the fans were able to get Donald's attention," she said.

He was stunned by the heavy fan support he received at a news conference and during a visit with fans at the Mall of America on Saturday, Childs-Long said. "He came there with the idea of meeting fans, shaking hands with fans, and people in the media he had been talking to on the telephone," she said. "But he left there with the idea of pride about Minnesota. Every conversation centered around the passion, the character, the support and the pride of the Minnesota fans. The Twins fans spoke clearly and loud; and it was heard."