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Carolina heads to polls over baseball
Will vote convince MLB that Triad can support Twins?
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- No matter how it turns out, Tuesday's vote on whether to finance a baseball stadium in North Carolina for the Minnesota Twins figures to be a lot like other key dates in the potential sale of the team.

It probably won't mean much.

Increasing skepticism about North Carolina's Triad area as a legitimate home for a major league team might make the highly anticipated referendum meaningless.

"I'm still convinced [the Twins] are not going to move," Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles said.

Baseball owners would be hard pressed to justify the move of a franchise from the nation's 14th-largest market to the 46th. That's where the Triad ranks with its 1.1 million people, less than half the size of the Twin Cities.

If the tax is approved, the owners also would have to approve the Twins' sale to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver before stadium construction could begin. Beaver's agreement to buy the team from Carl Pohlad expired March 31.

Still, supporters in the Triad have waged an intensive campaign that seems likely to make Tuesday's vote closer than once expected. Earlier this year opposition was running at about 70 percent according to newspaper polls. A poll taken last week showed the opposition had plummeted to 51 percent, with 43 percent supporting the stadium tax and 5 percent undecided.

"I see nothing to be pessimistic about," said Walt Klein, director of the Triad's "Vote Yes for Major League Baseball" campaign.

The Vote Yes campaign raised about $716,000 and has circulated about 18,000 lawn signs. Compare that to about $26,000 in fund-raising and distribution of about 5,000 lawn signs by the opposition group "Citizens Against Unfair Taxes."

Even Beaver admits Tuesday's vote is only one step in what will be a difficult process of convincing baseball's owners the Triad is a viable major league area.

"We've got to make sure what's good for the ownership group and what's best for baseball and what we think baseball will approve," Beaver said. "When the vote passes, we've got our work to do to get baseball to look at the area."

Pohlad, who has been frustrated by his inability to secure public financing for a new stadium in Minnesota, visited the Triad for the first time last month. He reportedly came away unimpressed.

Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine and majority leader in the Minnesota Senate, met last week with Pohlad and Pohlad's three sons, who have played key roles in stadium negotiations.

"If there's hope for a new baseball stadium [in Minnesota], they're willing to hang in there," Moe said. "I think there's hope."

Pohlad's flirtation with Beaver and North Carolina has been marked by ominous deadlines that came and went with no action. Those dubious dates included March 31 and November 30, the day the Minnesota Legislature had to approve stadium funding or the sale to Beaver would go through.

The Legislature voted down a funding plan, and yet the sale now is closer to falling apart than going through.

However, baseball's owners could end up in an awkward position if the stadium tax is approved Tuesday. Even though the Triad seems unattractive as a potential home for a major league team, the owners could risk sending the wrong message by turning down the Triad after letting the process get so far.

Such a move could unmask Pohlad's talks with Beaver as political blackmail, something many in Minnesota have charged since the negotiations first became public.

"Baseball has a vested interest in making sure the momentum for new stadiums doesn't stop," a major league executive who requested anonymity told the Star Tribune. "They allowed them to go on with the referendum. Now, if it passes, think of the political and public relations consequences to baseball if we don't go there."