Maryland Gov. Moore, Lt. Miller pitch Commanders — and their fans — at training camp

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Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) pose Wednesday with the Hogfarmers, fans of the Washington Commanders football team. (Josh Kurtz/Maryland Matters)

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ASHBURN, Va. — Two days after visiting the Baltimore Ravens training facility in Owings Mills, Gov. Wes Moore (D) crossed state lines Wednesday to check out the training camp of the Washington Commanders — another step in his push to convince the team to build its new stadium next to its current one in Prince George’s County.

Moore sought to tie the newfound buzz surrounding the Commanders since the universally detested owner Daniel Snyder sold the team earlier this summer, to the energy state and local officials are trying to bring to the area surrounding the Commanders current home, FedEx Field in Landover.

“When you see the energy out here today, when you see the energy of what we plan to do in the Blue Line corridor in Prince George’s County, it’s a perfect marriage,” Moore said.

For his visit, Moore wore a burgundy Commanders jersey bearing the number 99, which belongs to Chase Young, a defensive lineman who grew up in Prince George’s County. That was no accident.

Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), who accompanied Moore to Ashburn, as she did to Owings Mills, wore a black number 93 jersey belonging to another defensive standout, Jonathan Allen, who also spent some time in Maryland growing up. A Moore aide, Carter Elliott IV, wore the burgundy number 17 jersey of star wide receiver Terry McLaurin.

Moore spent about two hours in Ashburn. A fitness buff, he checked out the indoor weight room and training facility, and then met with team President Jason Wright and with Mitchell Rales, a Potomac real estate developer who is a new minority co-owner of the team.

“We’ve already been having sensitive conversations with the new ownership group,” Moore said.

The governor’s visit to Ashburn coincided with the Commanders’ Kids’ Day — an event meant to win back the team’s beleaguered fan base. The new ownership has lifted the spirits of Washington football fans, and a great cross-section of the region was in evidence Wednesday — a reminder that the team once unified Black and white, rich and poor, old and young, Democrat and Republican, urban, suburban and rural.

“It’s great to be a fan again!” more than one person shouted out, seemingly spontaneously. Thousands of kids were on hand, playing catch on artificial turf adjacent to the two practice fields, testing their passing skills by tossing footballs at holes in a wooden wall, playing Cornhole, getting their faces painted and their pictures taken, collecting free plastic water bottles with the team logo, and ogling and high-fiving their favorite players.

Rales and Wright chatted amiably with reporters — but not for the record, team press handlers were quick to insist. Both were clearly basking in the goodwill.

“Thank you, Mr. Rales!” one fan yelled. “Thank you for saving us!”

“Thanks for coming back!” he yelled back.

It has quickly become apparent that, publicly and privately, Commanders officials have no idea yet where the club’s next stadium is going to be built. The team has agreed to play at FedEx Field, which opened in 1997, through 2027, though that isn’t a hard and fast deadline. The Commanders own the stadium, so no one would be kicking them out.

Maryland will have stiff competition for a new stadium, however. With the help of Congress, the District of Columbia may be able to lease the Commanders land near RFK Stadium, the team’s old haunt and site of its glory years, and the District’s emotional pull on a sizable chunk of the fan base will be hard for the new ownership to resist. Virginia has been wooing the team on and off for the past few years and seems poised to start again now that Snyder is out of the picture.

“I’m conflicted,” said Virginia Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D), who was on hand at the training camp Wednesday and greeted Moore and Miller with hugs. “I like Governor Moore and Lieutenant Governor Miller, but on the other hand, I love Virginia more. If the team wants to build a new stadium, this would be a great place for them to be. Virginia is the best place in the country to do business. We just have to make sure it’s good for taxpayers.”

Subramanyam, a former Obama administration official who ousted a veteran incumbent in a Democratic primary for state Senate this spring and seems poised to join the upper chamber next year, represents Ashburn and environs, near Dulles International Airport. The area surrounding the Commanders’ practice facility is populated by large warehouses, corporate “fulfillment” centers, new housing developments, and a jaw-dropping number of windowless data centers.

Moore’s pitch to the team is that Maryland has committed $400 million to beef up the so-called Blue Line corridor near where FedEx Field is now. The state and Prince George’s County envision a massive mixed-use development that includes a vast entertainment district.

Moore on Wednesday frequently compared the Commanders’ effort to rebuild and rebrand to the state’s aspirations for the Blue Line corridor.

“There’s so much talent on the field, but that’s not enough,” he said. “You’ve got to build a winning culture. To keep the team in Prince George’s County is a major priority. But we’re also developing winners off the field — new developers, new entrepreneurs, new community enterprises.”

After talking briefly with reporters, Moore and Miller spent half an hour chatting with fans who were standing along a white picket fence overlooking the two practice fields. They shook hands, signed footballs, posed for pictures, and hugged three members of the Hogfarmers, burly, bearded guys wearing construction helmets with pigs’ ears and snouts, who raise money for kids with cancer.

Moore and his entourage also spent half an hour along the sidelines of one of the practice fields, watching the action and playing a quick game of catch. But it seemed to lack the signature moment of earlier this week in Owings Mills, when Moore, a former Johns Hopkins University football player, caught a long pass from Ravens’ star quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Still, Moore stayed on message.

“It’s nice seeing them practice here,” Moore told onlookers as he worked the crowd. “They’re Maryland’s team.”

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