Jeff Samardzija has found a way to help people while honoring his mother Debora, who passed away in June of 2001, and giving back to his alma mater.
The former Notre Dame football and baseball standout and current Chicago Cubs pitcher will establish the Debora Samardzija Memorial Scholarship, which will be awarded each year to a student who has suffered the loss of a loved one while continuing to strive for academic excellence.
"Our family suffered the loss of my mom passing away and it was a rough time going through my senior year in high school and getting everything situated. Everyone kind of helped out," Samardzija said during a conference call with the media on Friday. "There was a lot of help coming from the outside that allowed me to do what I did and attend Notre Dame."
Samardzija appreciates his mother even more with time.
"I was a young kid, I didn't really realize the full extent of everything that happened, but the older I get, the more I look back at it and just try and take different things from what I remember when she was around," he said. "Whether it's just little things like things we did around the house or little things she taught me or the big things that I picked up from her just being one of the greatest persons that I ever met."
Those memories motivated Samardzija when it came to starting the endowment.
"We're kind of taking the same basis and anyone that wants to come to Notre Dame and has kind of had a similar situation and has lost a family member or a parent, we're going to try to help them out with a scholarship to attend Notre Dame," he said. "Obviously, Notre Dame is a pretty expensive school to attend, so anything can help out. We feel that someone in that situation would be very appreciative of it."
Samardzija said that he started talking about the idea with his brother and his agent about a year ago, but it did not start getting serious until he was called up to the majors in 2008.
"We really started getting the wheels turning with it and we've been in touch with Notre Dame over the last year or so and we're just trying to get it going," Samardzija said. "Obviously, we want to do it for a long-term thing. We don't want it just to last a year or two so we took our time setting it up."
Samardzija believes that the scholarship is a fitting honor to is mother.
"She was the most unselfish person of all time and I just try, as much as I can, to adapt that to what I do," he said. "Giving back to Notre Dame, giving back to the students or maybe it's an athlete that has the same situation, it just seems like a perfect situation and she would just be really happy with that."
Samardzija said that there will be an in-depth selection process when it comes to picking the recipient and that he will be searching for someone in similar situation to his own, but added that he is confident the winner will be obvious to him.
"I think ultimately it's going to kind of pick itself out," he said. "It's just going to jump out and I'm going to be able to relate very much."
Samardzija will be back on the Notre Dame campus next week as a keynote speaker at the baseball team's Opening Night Dinner on Feb. 5.
"I didn't expect to do this, I didn't really think about doing this until I was maybe a little bit older. Playing with some of the guys that are going to be at the convention is pretty funny," he laughed. "It's kind of hard to go up there and say, ‘Well, I did this and I did that,' when I was just there a couple of years ago.
"I've had fun since I've left and I would like to relate to them how big an aspect Notre Dame was to me getting to where I am. I think that's the best thing that I can relay to these guys that you're at Notre Dame and you need to take advantage of it."
"Obviously, the season didn't go how they wanted it to, but it easily could have. They just needed to close it down in the last few minutes of a few of the games," he said. "That's the parity in college football. It's not easy to win Division I games, especially at the highest level."
But he is confident that things will turn around.
"They reminded me a lot of my sophomore year there when a lot of us were freshmen and sophomores playing and we were just learning the ropes, but we knew we were good," he said. "We'll see what happens next year, but I think we'll be all right."
As for his own career, after 26 appearances out of the bullpen with the Cubs last season, Samardzija has a shot at earning a spot in Chicago's rotation for 2009.
"All I can do is go into spring training in the best shape possible and put my arm in the best shape possible," he said. "I don't know what's going to turn out, but all I got word of is that I was going to get a shot in spring training, that's all I need to know.
"The way it's shaping out now is there is an open spot, so I'm going to go into spring training fighting tooth and nail to earn that spot."
Samardzija will be competing against fellow Domer, Aaron Heilman, who the Cubs acquired in trade on Wednesday. Samardzija has met Heilman a few times on campus and around the big leagues.
"He's a great dude and I'm sure he's going to be competing just as hard as I am for whatever spot is down there," said Samardzija. "It's only a good thing. It's going to make the team better and the guys that end up breaking with the team at the end will know they earned it."
Whether or not Samardzija wins the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation, he does not sound like he is having second thoughts about picking baseball over football.
When asked if there was anything that he missed about football, Samardzija replied with a simple, "No."