Ex-football player understands perception
By Luke Meredith
DES MOINES, Iowa ó Shortly after his promotion to Triple-A, the Iowa Cubs pulled a fast one on pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
The I-Cubs hung a makeshift No. 83 jersey in Samardzijaís locker, hazing the new guy the only way they knew how. Though Samardzija had long traded in the navy and gold of Notre Dame football for blue pinstripes, even he had to laugh.
Samardzija knows that until he proves otherwise, heíll always be that floppy-haired wide receiver who chose baseball over the NFL.
Samardzija, who signed a 5-year, $10-million contract with the Cubs in 2007 despite speculation that he could have been a first-round pick in the NFL draft, made his debut for Iowa on June 24.
Samardzija is 1-1 with 3.00 earned run average in two Triple-A starts.
iThey saw me playing every Saturday, but they didnít see me playing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in baseball. Obviously nowadays, you believe what you see, believe what you read in the paper or what you see on TV,î said Samardzija. iI donít blame them for it. My job is to go out and show them I can play baseball, too.î
Though Samardzija is now just one step from Wrigley Field, most folks still think of him as a football player. Thatís a testament to his career at Notre Dame, the Irishís national profile and the anonymity of the path Samardzija chose.
The 6-foot-5 wideout was quarterback Brady Quinnís go-to guy in 2005-06, catching 155 passes and 27 touchdowns in his final two seasons to help lead the Irish to back-to-back BCS bowl appearances. He left Notre Dame as the schoolís all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches, many of the acrobatic variety.
To the few who noticed, Samardzija was also a workhorse for the Irish baseball team, going 21-6 in three seasons. The Chicago Cubs grabbed him in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft.
Samardzija posted a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings with Single-A Boise and Peoria in 2006. He decided to stick with baseball despite a brilliant senior year at Notre Dame, and the Cubs broke out their checkbook to keep him.
Samardzija was called up to Double-A Tennessee late in 2007 and went 3-3 with a 3.41 ERA. Despite a rocky start this season at Tennessee, where he walked 42 batters in 76 innings with an ERA of 4.86, Samardzija was promoted to Iowa.
The scouting report on Samardzija, according to Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason, is that heís a isinker, sliderî guy with a complementary changeup and splitter. The athleticism that served Samardzija so well on the gridiron ó just ask former Michigan State coach John L. Smith about that ó also works to his benefit on the mound. So does a sinking fastball he can blow by hitters.
But Iowa wants to see Samardzija master the art of throwing quality off-speed pitches in hitterís counts. Do that, Mason said, and Samardzija could become a major league starter.