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Nationals ownership should transfer by June

NEW YORK -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is likely to pick a new owner for the Washington Nationals within a few days and the team probably will change hands in June, the sport's No. 2 official said Thursday.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said Selig
intends to have major league owners vote on the sale when they meet
May 17-18 in New York. DuPuy also said a ceremonial groundbreaking
for the Nationals' new ballpark is likely to take place May 4.

Eight groups have bid for the Nationals, a franchise purchased
by the other 29 teams in 2002, when the team was known as the
Montreal Expos. Baseball, which bought the Expos for $120 million,
has asked for $450 million for the Nationals.

Selig and DuPuy have been talking and meeting with the bidders.

"I do think the commissioner is very close. I will tell you it
is topic A in his conversations with us," DuPuy said Thursday
after a news conference to announce Holiday Inn's three-year
sponsorship agreement with baseball.

"There are enormous strengths in each of the groups, and I
personally believe any one of the groups would make fine owners,
and I think the commissioner believes that as well."

DuPuy said the sale will be on a relatively fast track for
approval.

"I think the commissioner intends to have this voted on at the
May meetings," he said.

Once a deal is approved, the incoming owner must finalize
financing before the sale is completed.

"My guess is it will close before June 15, in that ballpark,"
DuPuy said.

The top contenders are thought to be the three groups headed by Theodore Lerner; Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients; and former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan.

While the new owners won't be allowed to make personnel
decisions before the sale closes, they will be involved in the
ballpark. DuPuy said some of the groups already have spoken with
the architects.

"Certainly we would want the putative owners to get involved right away in stadium discussions, get involved in planning, get involved with the politicians, because we're heading down to some deadlines there, too, in terms of groundbreaking and trying to get the ballpark done," he said.

On another topic, DuPuy said the federal grand jury
investigation of Barry Bonds will not alter baseball's steroids
probe, which is headed by former Senate Majority Leader George
Mitchell. Bonds, who testified before the grand jury in 2003, could
be cited for perjury, according to several reports.

"George Mitchell's investigation is under way, and there are no plans to modify that investigation at this point," DuPuy said.

Holiday Inn, which is owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group, becomes baseball's first official hotel since Hyatt in
1993-94. The company also announced sponsorship deals with the
Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins.