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James Hahn, Roberto Castro lead Humana Challenge

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James Hahn, Roberto Castro lead Humana Challenge

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) James Hahn's family moved to Oakland from South Korea when he was 2, and he started playing golf two years later at his father's driving range.

``Just a `Tin Cup' kind of guy,'' Hahn said. ``Just a driving range rat.''

On Friday, in only his third big-league tournament, the 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie found himself tied for the Humana Challenge lead for the second straight day.

``I'm just soaking it in, having a good time,'' Hahn said. ``Any time that I play a good round, it feels good and makes me cherish the momentum a little bit more, because I know they're few and far between.''

He had a brief, combative college career at the University of California - ``Let's just say extracurricular activities got in the way.'' - and took a long, slow path to the PGA Tour. He won twice on the Canadian Tour in 2009 and spent the last three years on the Web.com Tour, winning an event last season and finishing fifth on the money list to earn a PGA Tour card.

``I just worked harder than everybody else,'' said Hahn, coming off a tie for 67th last week in Hawaii at the Sony Open. ``I wasn't doing anything right really the first couple years, but eventually I figured it out. Just going through trial and error is pretty much how I learned to play professionally. And to this day, I still go on YouTube for swing tips.''

He put together a highlight reel of his own Friday on the par-5 fifth hole at La Quinta Country Club, blasting a dead-straight drive, and hitting his second shot so pure that it went a little farther than he wanted. Undaunted, he turned to his trusty 54-degree wedge and holed a 30-foot, bump-and-run chip for eagle - part of a late birdie-eagle-birdie run.

``It was a long-drive stat hole, so I kind of came out of my shoes a little bit,'' Hahn said about his 310-yard poke on the tree-lined hole.

That left him 220 yards, and he figured a smooth 3-iron was his best play

``I didn't want to really overpower a 4-iron,'' Hahn said. ``I had a lot of adrenaline.''

He made perfect contact.

``Just hit it too good,'' Hahn said. ``Hit the center of the green, landed it 220, rolled to the back. ... I could have hit it with a 6-iron and probably hit it within 2 feet.''

It didn't matter when the chip rolled in.

``I read the break perfectly, broke about 2 feet straight down the hill,'' Hahn said.

Hahn finished with a 5-under 67 to match Roberto Castro at 14 under after another day of perfect conditions in the Coachella Valley. Castro shot a 67 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course after they began the round tied for the lead with Jason Kokrak at 63.

Castro had the lead alone at 16 under, but bogeyed two of his last three holes - three-putting the par-4 ninth.

``A couple slipped away there at the end, but yesterday I made a 50-footer on the last,'' Castro said. ``Today, I felt like I hit a good putt and three-putted. So, that's stuff over 72 holes that's going to even out.''

Castro is in his second season on the tour. The 27-year-old former Georgia Tech player missed the cut last week in Hawaii in his first start of the year.

``I learned a lot last year,'' Castro said. ``One of the best things that happened to me was making a lot of the cuts early in the year. I didn't have any big finishes, but I got to play four days and I got to learn pretty quickly. I got to play with some good players and watch what they do.''

Darron Stiles, Scott Stallings and Richard H. Lee were 13 under, all shooting 65. Stiles and Stallings played at La Quinta, and Lee was on the Palmer course. Kokrak had a 69 on the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for sixth at 12 under.

Phil Mickelson shot a 67 on the Nicklaus course after opening with a 72 at La Quinta. The tournament winner in 2002 and 2004, he was nine strokes behind the leaders and two strokes off the projected cut Saturday.

``The last two holes were the first time that I actually hit solid shots and my rhythm felt good and I made good wings,'' Mickelson said. ``I've been quick from the top. My rhythm has been off and I've hit a bunch of squirrelly shots. I made a lot of rusty mistakes.''

The tournament is his first since tying for second in early November at the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup. He plans to play five or six straight events, a run that will end at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.

``I really want to build some momentum here on the West Coast,'' Mickelson said.

Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had a 69 at the Palmer course to reach 11 under. He shot a 64 on Thursday at the Nicklaus course, and is 35 under in his first six rounds this year.

DIVOTS: The Palmer course had the highest scoring average the first two days at 69.596. La Quinta was next at 69.529, and the Nicklaus course the lowest at 67.923. ... Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, followed his opening 67 at La Quinta with a 75 at the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for 130th in the 156-man field at 2 under. The Canadian has missed 16 consecutive cuts and finished only one tournament - a tie for 70th in the AT&T National in July 2011 - in his last 28 events. The top 70 and ties after the third round will play Sunday at the Palmer course.

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Nationals mailbag: Luxury tax for dummies, odd memories and how to break into a front office job

Nationals mailbag: Luxury tax for dummies, odd memories and how to break into a front office job

Hello and welcome to another Nationals mailbag as we wait for baseball to hopefully be played in 2020.

As a reminder, you can send questions to me directly at Todd.Dybas@nbcuni.com or through the mailbag portal here.

On to the questions:

Q: Could you do a “luxury tax for dummies” write up?  You always say on the pod that it is too complicated and boring for listeners.  But readers have nothing but time right now. -Jennifer Lowe
A:
This insinuates I am not among the dummies. But, I’ll do it regardless.

The Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT, or, colloquially, the “luxury tax” in baseball was a threshold introduced to try to close the gap between the giant spenders and the have-nots. The plight of small-market teams became such a topic in the early 1990s -- mainly because of the Yankees’ ongoing largess -- the league decided to put the CBT in place.

The premise was to find a way for significant spending to flow back to clubs who did not have the same payroll prowess. And, it’s become a major factor in how the Nationals do business.

Managing principal owner Mark Lerner has repeatedly said the Nationals would not exceed the CBT threshold (it’s $208 million this year). The organization wound its way under the tax last season to reset its clock. That move was important.

The CBT works on an ascending penalty scale. So, go over once, and you pay a 20 percent tax on any overage. For instance, if Team X has a $218 million payroll this year, they are $10 million over the threshold, and their penalty would be $2 million for going over one time.

Go over in consecutive years, and the penalty rises to 30 percent. Three consecutive seasons of overage produces a 50 percent tax on the amount the threshold is exceeded.

There’s also another recent wrinkle:

Beginning in 2018, clubs that are $40 million or more above the threshold shall have their highest selection in the next Rule 4 Draft moved back 10 places unless the pick falls in the top six. In that case, the team will have its second-highest selection moved back 10 places instead.
So, the next time you hear the Nationals don’t want to go over the “luxury tax”, remember their penalty for doing so could well be minimal. But, they achieved the ultimate upside last year: they slid below the tax threshold, resetting their clock, and won the World Series. That’s a financial coup.


Q: I’m a relatively new Nationals fan and baseball fan in general, having gotten into it around the 2018 All-Star Game and I was just wondering what are some of your favourite weird or obscure moments in Nationals history that maybe not a lot of people will remember? Maple Meadows
A.
Hey, Maple. Thanks for tuning into the podcast and reading.

This is certainly fan dependent. But, a few random things came into the head of our resident baseball historian, Tim Shovers:

-- Alfonso Soriano’s 40-40 season in 2006 is an odd anomaly. Not for Soriano personally, because he was close multiple times prior, but that it came in his only season in Washington. The Nationals sent three players to Texas -- Armando Galaragga, Termel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson -- for a year of work from Soriano. He went crazy, finished sixth in MVP voting and signed with the Cubs in the offseason. Meanwhile, the team finished 20 games under .500.

-- John Lannan was the team’s No. 2 starter at the start of 2011 and pitched 184 ⅔ innings, then didn’t make the team out of spring training the following season. He eventually returned to the major leagues that year. But that was the end of his time in Washington. Lannan made 14 starts for Philadelphia in 2013 then pitched four innings for the Mets out of the bullpen in 2014. He never pitched in the major leagues again.

-- Back in April of 2009, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn wore Nationals jerseys which were missing the  “o” because of a mistake by jersey-maker Majestic Athletic. So, across their chest was “Natinals”. They were in proper jerseys after the first three innings.

The lessons here? You can’t predict baseball.

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Q: I know this isn't a complete Nationals question but, I have a dream to work in the Nationals baseball front office one day, as hard as that is what in your opinion can I do as a senior in high school to raise my chances of possibly one day getting there? Yitz Taragin
A.
Hey, Yitz.

I turned to a better authority on this, and relayed your question to Nationals assistant general manager of player development Mark Scialabba. Here’s what he had to say:

“I always tell students when they ask about how they can eventually work for a Major League team that they should immerse themselves in the game as much as possible.  If you are playing, play as long as you can and if not that is OK, too. Watch games live, study the game, and watch games regularly on TV. Read as much as you can to understand the history of the game as well as the business/economic side and read on-line contemporary articles and interviews with people in the game.

“Develop skills that can impact a front office one day when you have the opportunity to interview for a position, whether that may be learning statistical analysis, player evaluation, computer programming, new video or technologies impacting the game, biomechanics, general management skills, mental conditioning, or perhaps even becoming fluent in Spanish.

“Apply for internships that will provide you experience in an area where you can immediately utilize your strengths and have a growth mindset that will allow you to best impact your organization long term. Take advantage of opportunities by using your skills to complete an independent study for school or take on a challenging project during an internship. This way you will have something tangible to help demonstrate your ability when you are seeking the next opportunity or position.

“Schedule information interviews with veteran scouts, coaches and front office executives who are willing to share their experiences and impart their wisdom from years of experience. The demand for these jobs greatly outweighs the supply so you have to be aggressive in your search for an internship/job and distinguish yourself by leveraging your strengths. Everyone’s process is different but regardless where and when you start I believe it is best to be humble, always continue to learn, be ready to take risks and make sure to be persistent.”

There you have it. Thanks to Mark for the assistance.

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Nationals closer Sean Doolittle gets some help from his dog Sophia for his home workout

Nationals closer Sean Doolittle gets some help from his dog Sophia for his home workout

The suspension of the MLB season due to the coronavirus outbreak has forced players around the league to get creative with their home workouts.

Gyms are closed and team facilities have been shut down, but that hasn’t stopped Nationals closer Sean Doolittle from staying in shape. While working out by his house, Doolittle decided to bring his dog Sophia in as an extra weight while doing lunges.

A noted bookworm, Doolittle also stacked a few novels on top of each other to keep the leg workout going.

Teammate Max Scherzer may have an MLB catcher living with him to help keep his training regime up to par, but Doolittle didn’t have such luck. Instead, he had to think a little bit more outside the box.

Doolittle’s exercises follow Capitals forward Carl Hagelin posting a video of him training with his one-year-old daughter. They’re not dumbbells or weights, but one way or another athletes are getting those crucial workouts in to stay ready for once their seasons resume—whenever that may be.

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