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Suns are Hub of Nats' farm system

September 21, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Hagerstown is known as the Hub City.

On Wednesday, the Washington Nationals took advantage of this town's reputation.

The National League baseball franchise signed a two-year agreement with the Hagerstown Suns to become the Nationals' low Single-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. With the agreement, Hagerstown immediately became the hub of the Washington minor league system.

The Suns will now become a key component to Washington's baseball fortunes since the team is the centrally located, first major step in player development.

"It really is a significant event," said Kurt Landes, the Hagerstown Suns president and general manager. "Fans will now be able to watch players at Municipal Stadium and continue to follow them up through the Nationals system to Washington."

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A Nationals prospect's road map to the majors will now start in Hagerstown before heading to Potomac (high Single-A of the Carolina League in Woodbridge, Va.) to Harrisburg (Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League) before eventually making the jump to Washington. The only team out of the Hub Loop is Columbus. The Clippers also signed on with the Nationals on Tuesday, to become the Triple-A affiliate. The New York Yankees left Columbus while the Nationals were moving from New Orleans.

"Our fans will not only be able to see the prospects in person, they will be able to follow them it they want," Landes said. "Potomac, Harrisburg and Washington are all about an hour away. Not only will fans be able to see these players play in person, now they will also be able to follow them daily on the Nationals TV network."

The agreement with Washington ends the Suns' two-year run with the New York Mets. Major League teams and their affiliations are allowed to consider changes every two years. When all the intentions are announced, a list of available teams and cities are published. Negotiations were allowed to begin on Sept. 16 at 12:01 a.m.

Landes said the Suns and the Mets mutually agreed to investigate other options after their agreement expired. When Washington and the Suns made contact, the deal quickly came together.

The Nationals will become the fifth organization to use Hagerstown as its affiliate when the Suns open their 27th season in April. Washington will follow Baltimore, Toronto, San Francisco and the Mets as teams who have called Municipal Stadium home.

By signing with the Nationals, the Suns have almost traveled full circle. They will be returning back to the regional affiliation they enjoyed when they were with the Orioles from 1981-92.

The Nationals give that feeling again.

"The Nationals have an existing fan base here," Landes said of the team that moved from Montreal two seasons ago. "Now, the Nationals' passionate fans and people from the D.C. area can come over and see the prospects as they start out. There is an ego thing ... to be able to say you saw that player play first at Municipal Stadium.

"This is a significant day in my mind for the franchise, the city and minor league baseball in Hagerstown. It brings a local affiliation back to the area and that is important."

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