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WARNING: OFF DAY FLUFF PIECE

[September 22nd] -- The Nationals are almost done reshuffling their minor league deck, and so far, so good. Harrisburg and Potomac will continue to be the team's Double-A and Single-A clubs, respectively. That's great. Both teams have been successful at the gate despite having a poor product on the field. Harrisburg has a new stadium plan ready to go when/if they get if financed. Potomac's Pfitzer Stadium isn't anything special, but it's clean and it draws decent crowds. In the past couple of days, Hagerstown has replaced low-A Savannah, and the new crown jewel of the Nationals farm system is Columbus, Ohio. Although no official announcement has been made, it's clear that Vermont will no longer be the Nationals' short-season rookie team.

The Columbus development was certainly a surprise, but the backstory helps the move make sense. John Galbreath, one of the Nationals' limited partners, has a history with the Columbus Clippers. Turns out that Galbreath called Clippers GM Ken Schnacke and set up a conference call involving both teams on Saturday, and then a tour of the facilities for Jim Bowden and his "posse" a couple of days later. A deal was hammered out the next day.

Here's where it gets a little hinky. Mike Shapiro of the Nationals says that Columbus was the team's first choice all along. I think he's just playing patty-cake with the press. If Columbus was the Nats' first choice, I'm sure they would have insisted on a PDC (player development contract) of more than just two years. Word out of Columbus is that both clubs demanded a "look-see," short-term deal. Both the Reds and Indians will be looking for a new 'AAA' team in 2008, the same year the Washington-Columbus agreement expires. Well, you get the picture. Cooper Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the International League. It was renovated in 1977 in preparation for the Yankees coming to the Ohio capital a year later.

A new stadium is in the works, but it won't be ready until 2008 at the earliest. Either way, if I'm reading the war drums correctly, the Nationals players won't ever play there. Bowden, however, says the Nats will make every effort to "re-up" when the current contract expires. That said, I'd be surprised if the team doesn't make another run at Norfolk in two years.

No changes are planned for the Clippers next year. The team uniform, similar to the Yankees' pin-stripe attire, will keep it's existing logo and colors. One change will happen, however. No longer will the stadium PA system blare Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York."

There will be one major change on the field. The Clippers, because of their American League affiliation, have played with the designated-hitter at Cooper Stadium since the Yankees moved in nearly 30 years ago. For the next two years at least, pitchers will again embarrass themselves at home plate.

I'm fine with the move to Columbus. However, I am saddened at the way New Orleans has been "dissed" by some members of the Nationals' front office staff. Jim Bowden, during the official announcement, made it seem like the Nationals had to get out of New Orleans as soon as possible. That must have left a bad taste in the mouths of Zephyr fans. Considering what the city has gone through in the last year, the Nats could have found a more tactful way to leave the Crescent City.


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