- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Washington Nationals‘ top minor leaguers officially will call Syracuse, N.Y., home next season.

After several days of negotiations, the team announced Saturday it had reached an agreement with the Syracuse Chiefs that will make the team Washington’s Class AAA affiliate for the next two seasons.

Syracuse, which had been affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays for the last 31 seasons, becomes the third Class AAA affiliate the Nationals have had since 2005.

“It’s very important for our club to have our players play on a first-class surface, which we have there,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “[It has] first-class batting cages, clubhouse, a community that supports baseball, housing that’s affordable for the players and a one-hour flight to D.C. to get our players here quickly when we make player moves.”

Bowden and farm director Bobby Williams called the Chiefs at 12:01 a.m. Thursday - the first time major league teams were allowed to contact potential affiliates - and members of the Nationals’ front office flew to Syracuse on Thursday morning to tour the team’s facilities and meet with the front office.

The Chiefs had pursued a relationship with the New York Mets, who chose International League rival Buffalo as their new Class AAA affiliate. But when the Nationals expressed interest, the situation moved quickly.

Washington formally will announce the partnership at a news conference in Syracuse on Monday afternoon.

The Chiefs replace the Columbus Clippers, who informed the Nationals last month they intended to seek new affiliation and officially agreed to a four-year deal with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

The team plays at the 11,117-seat Alliance Bank Stadium, which was built in 1997 and got a natural grass surface for the first time before last season. The stadium boasts two indoor batting cages and is 250 miles from Class AA affiliate Harrisburg.

Hicks fractures finger

Bowden said left-hander Graham Hicks, the Nationals’ fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, fractured the finger on his throwing hand during a fielding drill Friday. He will miss the rest of the Nationals’ instructional league in Viera, Fla.

”That was a little bit of a setback for us,” Bowden said. “But [Chris] Marrero’s doing well with his [broken right ankle]. [Justin] Maxwell’s doing well with his [wrist] injury. We’re very pleased with the team we have down there.”

Thompson on hand

Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III stopped by Nationals Park on Saturday to take in the game and visit with a pair of his former players - Padres outfielder Will Venable and starting pitcher Chris Young.

Thompson coached both players at Princeton, where each was a two-sport athlete.

“To be able to make it at this level in any sport is an unbelievable accomplishment,” Thompson said. “They both came to school playing both sports - with a passion for both. It’s much easier to come and watch them in this environment than when I’m on the bench with them.”

Bowden said his son, Chad, attends Thompson’s basketball camp every summer.

“I love both John Thompsons and everything that has to do with Georgetown,” Bowden said. “I’m glad he was able to come out here. It’s quite an honor.”

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