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In a close call, city is Nats’ turf

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This section of the Heritage Trail along Riverside Drive in Fredericksburg is within 15 miles of Prince William County, meaning the city is in the Washington Nationals’ territory.

It has probably never crossed the minds of most people jogging along Fredericksburg’s Heritage Trail under the Falmouth Bridge that they are within 15 miles of Prince William County.

But that fact is an important factor in Fredericksburg’s effort to land a minor league baseball team.

Major League Baseball rules give every team an operating territory. Any team affiliated with Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball that wants to locate within that territory must get the consent of the team that controls the area.

The Washington Nationals’ territory comprises the District of Columbia; Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties; and all Virginia cities bordering those counties.

In addition to those defined territories, every Major League team and its Minor League affiliates are granted a 15-mile buffer in which no other team can operate without consent.

“No Minor League Club may play its home games within the home territory or within 15 miles of the home territory of any Major League Club” without consent, states MLB Rule 52.

An analysis of Geographic Information System data by Kevin Byrnes, director of regional planning for the George Washington Regional Commission, shows a slim area of Fredericksburg that falls within that 15-mile buffer. Along Interstate 95, there is about a 15.7-mile buffer between the city and Prince William.

The GWRC’s Kevin Byrnes provided this map from the Geographic Information System showing a small part of Fredericksburg that lies within 15 miles of Prince William County. Click for a larger view.

The city parcels that fall within the buffer are around the point where Caroline Street meets Riverside Drive. Slightly less than 15 miles away lies the extreme southeast corner of Prince William in the Quantico area.

The site of the proposed Fredericksburg baseball stadium in Celebrate Virginia South is more than 15 miles from Prince William. But according to Steve Densa, executive director of communications for Minor League Baseball, if any part of a locality falls within the buffer, consent must be obtained from the team that controls that territory.

And hence, he said, any Minor League Baseball team that wishes to locate in Fredericksburg must obtain the consent of the Washington Nationals. Densa added that if a Nationals affiliate did come to Fredericksburg, a subsequent change of affiliation would not require the club to leave.

Nationals weigh in

The Nationals have authorized the Hagerstown Suns, their low Class-A affiliate, to relocate to Fredericksburg, but the Nationals have said they don’t intend to allow any other team to come to Fredericksburg.

“I write this letter to alleviate any confusion that may exist with respect to the consent of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club of the application of the Hagerstown Suns, LLC to relocate to Fredericksburg, Virginia,” Nationals Vice President and General Counsel Damon T. Jones wrote in a June 17 letter to Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn.

“The Hagerstown Suns is the only team we have authorized, and the only team we intend to authorize, to relocate to Fredericksburg, Virginia,” Jones continued.

The Suns have proposed to relocate to Fredericksburg if the city will build a stadium whose construction costs are estimated at $29.5 million.

Public reaction to the initially proposed financing plan, which included a significant real estate tax increase on Central Park and Celebrate Virginia, was overwhelmingly negative at a Tuesday public hearing, though there was ample support expressed for a local Minor League Baseball team.

City Councilmen Fred Howe and Brad Ellis were appointed Tuesday to help City Manager Bev Cameron negotiate a new deal with the Suns. Quinn has pointed out that the tax district wasn’t his idea, and has indicated a willingness to negotiate on the terms of the deal.

Other teams interested?

Representatives of a group called Play Ball VA! have questioned whether the Nationals have the ability to block a move to Fredericksburg and have indicated that other affiliated baseball teams have expressed an interest in coming here if the Suns deal doesn’t work out.

Play Ball VA! was formed after the members of a predecessor group, Rappahannock Baseball Initiative, went separate ways in March. RBI member Tom Byrnes has continued to work on the deal with the Suns, while former RBI members Bob Hagan, Hap Connors and Irv McGowan are now with Play Ball VA!

Though the Nationals would have the right to block another club from coming here, the team wouldn’t have to. There are examples of minor league teams playing within 15 miles of the home territory of a major league team with which they’re not affiliated. Examples include the teams in Trenton, N.J., and Wilmington, Del., neither of which is affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, despite falling in the Phillies’ territory.

Major League Baseball territorial rules don’t affect independent professional baseball leagues.

Spotsylvania falls outside the Nationals’ territory, though that county is within the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ zone, according to Eric Krupa, president of the South Atlantic League in which the Suns play.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405