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Watkins starts talks with Twins

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Alabama; businessman Donald Watkins said he began talks Monday with the Minnesota Twins about buying the team and hopes to have a deal before the year is out.

Watkins said he discussed a negotiating schedule with Twins president Jerry Bell, an agenda that may have him visiting Minnesota yet this month.

"Our talk was very friendly," said Watkins, who would be baseball's first black owner.

Bell said he told Watkins that the Twins are busy this week with owners meetings in Phoenix and the annual Twins Caravan that visits with fans across the state, but Bell said he will call Watkins soon with alternative dates.

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Once Watkins has all the details of the Twins' finances, he will need about 60 days to determine a team value, he said. Estimates of the Twins' worth start at $99 million and run to $125 million and higher.

Watkins said he hopes to negotiate a deal with owner Carl Pohlad and have major league approval within six to eight months.

It was unclear at first if Watkins would be allowed to bid on the Twins because the team is widely believed to be a target for elimination by Major League Baseball. But baseball officials Thursday in New York gave Watkins the go-ahead, a step that may mean the Twins will not be eliminated.

Watkins, 53, said he plans to pay cash for the Twins and finance construction of a $350 million ballpark through private investors.

During his first negotiation trip here, he said he likely would meet with St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly and Council Member Jerry Blakey, who are interested in talking to him about building a ballpark in St. Paul.

"He (Blakey) asked me for the opportunity to meet me, and I told him I would do that," Watkins said.

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