- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Washington Nationals signed a two-year player development contract with Class AAA Columbus (Ohio) of the International League. As part of the deal, the Nationals will play an exhibition game against the Clippers in Columbus after they break from their Viera, Fla., spring training camp.

“You couldn’t find a better fit with 11 [daily] nonstops from Columbus to Washington, D.C.,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “If we get an injury at 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock, we’ll have the player here for the game. This is a great major step forward for our franchise to have our affiliation in Columbus, Ohio.”

The Nationals chose not to renew their two-year contract with the New Orleans Zephyrs. The team wanted its top farm club to be closer to the District.

Nationals president Stan Kasten and Bowden toured 15,000-seat Cooper Stadium on Monday and met officials from Franklin County, which owns the Clippers and Cooper Stadium. A new downtown stadium, Huntington Park, is scheduled to be completed for the Clippers in 2008.

The Clippers and New York Yankees ended their 28-year relationship earlier this month.

The Nationals also signed a two-year player development contract yesterday with the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League. Hagerstown replaces the Savannah Sand Gnats as the Nationals’ low Class A affiliate.

Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium seats 4,600. The agreement with the Suns gives the Nationals another nearby option to send injured players on rehab assignments. On Tuesday, the Nationals announced they signed a four-year extension with the high Class A Carolina League’s Potomac Nationals, located in Woodbridge, Va.

Not done yet

If backup catcher Brandon Harper didn’t make it to the big leagues this year, he planned to retire. Harper, 30, said he registered for classes in January at Metro State in Denver to finish his degree in management. The Nationals put those plans on hold when they invited him to spring training.

The Nationals gave Harper his first taste of the majors Aug. 1 when they called him up from New Orleans after 10 years in the minors. Since then, Harper has been solid as Brian Schneider’s backup. In just 12 games, Harper (.367) has 11 hits — including two homers — in 30 at-bats.

Extra bases

The Nationals surpassed the 2 million mark in attendance on the season. Last night’s crowd of 19,027 raised the season total to 2,006,665, an average of 26,756 a game. …

Right-hander reliever Brett Campbell suffered a back strain and is out at least seven to 10 days.

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