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Now that Buffalo has made the National League's short list for baseball expansion, Bisons' President Robert Rich Jr. is turning his attention to the next step. And he's hoping to get an assist from the Bills.

The next step will be a visit from the NL's expansion committee, expected to take place in January or February.

"Well, we got all that planned," Rich said Tuesday after the long-awaited announcement that Buffalo -- along with Denver, Washington, Miami, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg -- had made the cut.

"The way the Bills are going, we're going to beat Miami this week, we're going to bring Jim Kelly back, we're going to have home-field advantage and we'll be the only prospect that can give these guys a football game to go to in January when they come in here.

"As far as I'm concerned, January is great, the sooner the better, and I hope it falls on a day when the Bills are playing a game in advance of the Super Bowl."

The National League has committed to selecting its two new playing sites by Oct. 1, 1991. However, the decision could be made as early as March.

"From my understanding, a decision will be made before 1992," Rich said. "And baseball has said that, hopefully, the decision will be made in the spring of '91. So we're talking about six, maybe seven months to the decision time. Maybe two of the candidates will stand out enough that a decision will be made before that seven-month window expires."

When the long-awaited short list was finally announced, one question that came to mind was: what took so long? The list of six finalists shaped up as many expected it would all along and it was no surprise that Charlotte, N.C., Sacramento, Calif., Nashville, Tenn., and Phoenix were shown the door.

"The cities on the list are the most qualified in terms of financial stability, significant community identification and long-term commitment to a baseball club and their community," said Douglas Danforth, chairman of the expansion committee.

"They are the best in terms of market size, government commitment to support baseball, and stadium facilities in place or planned. We look forward to the next step in the expansion process, visits to the sites and final recommendations."

The short list clearly gives Florida a strong chance of receiving at least one of the two NL franchises that will begin play in 1993. Instead of eliminating one of the state's candidate cities, the expansion committee chose to include all three. However, the expansion committee also chose specific ownership groups to represent Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Each city had three groups vying for ownership rights.

"I think it's a positive sign that Florida is a dynamic state for major league baseball that half the finalists are from one state," said Rick Dodge, a leader in the Tampa-St. Petersburg effort.

Predictably, each of the Florida cities is touting itself as the No. 1 candidate.

"I think we'll be there when the bell rings," said St. Petersburg Mayor Robert Ulrich. "We have the facility, we know it's first rate and we have the demographics."

"We're prepared to prove that South Florida's the best choice for baseball," said Don Smiley, vice president of the Miami ownership group.

"We're the only Florida city that can build a kind of ball park they want," said Pat Williams, owner of the NBA's Orlando Magic and spokesperson for that city's baseball efforts.

"It will be a modern-day Wrigley Field. We've made enormous strides, we're coming from behind."

While Florida was celebrating its clean sweep, Rich threw a few jabs the way of the Sunshine State. He was particularly perturbed by reports circulating out of Tampa-St. Petersburg that predicted Buffalo would not make the short list.

"Every time you sneeze in Buffalo, somebody gets a cold in Tampa-St. Pete," Rich said. "Unless I'm wrong, Tampa-St. Pete is not making the decision even though they consider themselves a lock."

Rich would not concede that Florida is guaranteed a team even though it owns half the short list.

"It's a message that Florida's a pretty nice place to go to look at teams," Rich said. "And it's a pretty nice place to play tennis and golf and go sail fishing. I think it's just in the cards that there were three from Florida on the list."

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