Samardzija chooses Cubs over NFL

Jeff Samardzija, a right-handed pitcher that doubled all throughout his college career as a standout wide receiver for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, came to terms on a five-year Major League contract with the Cubs Friday.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2006 Major League Draft, Samardzija was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in seven starts between Class Low A Boise and Class A Peoria a season ago. The 21-year-old signed shortly after the draft and left the Cubs in late July to report to fall football practice at Notre Dame.

With the Irish this past season, Samardzija had 78 receptions for 1,017 yards. He holds the Notre Dame school record for most touchdown receptions with 27. Notre Dame finished the season 10-3 and ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches poll.

Samardzija will now forego any possible career in the NFL.

"I will devote my full time and attention to professional baseball and forego a potential career in the National Football League," Samardzija said Friday in a press conference at the Cubs Convention. "I am honored to be given the opportunity to pursue this career path as a member of the Chicago Cubs."

Samardzija said that playing two professional sports was impossible.

"I understand that some people may be skeptical of my intentions," Samardzija said. "I can't lie: leaving football will not be easy. But playing baseball is my first love. It is what I want to do for a living."

Those skeptical of Samardzija's decision to leave behind a possible career in the NFL were also critical of the Cubs' decision to select the 6-6, 215-pound pitcher in last year's draft.

Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken and General Manager Jim Hendry nevertheless liked what they saw from Samardzija and believed the club had a strong chance of convincing him to play professional baseball.

They were right.

"This is a dream come true for a kid who grew up in Northern Indiana looking up the road at this great city and its loyal fans," said Samardzija, a native of Valparaiso. "I feel very comfortable that this is exactly where I belong."

While pitching at Notre Dame, Samardzija was 8-2 with a 4.33 ERA in 15 starts in 2006. He finished his college career with a 21-6 record and a 3.82 ERA in 240 1/3 innings.

Last summer, then-Irish head baseball coach Paul Mainieri deemed Samardzija as "the greatest athlete that I've had the privilege of coaching," and "the greatest competitor that I've ever coached."

"He started pitching in his freshman year and was throwing 86-89 miles-per-hour," Mainieri said. "This spring, he topped out at 99 and pretty much sat at 93-94. He developed a really good slider and changeup just in the last year."

Samardzija will report to Big League Spring Training camp in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 14, the date all pitchers and catchers report. The Cubs open Cactus League play against the San Francisco Giants March 1 at 2:05 p.m. (CST).

Samardzija's contract includes a club option for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Associated Press reports the contract is for $10 million over five years.

"I want to let Cubs fans know that I am committed to their team and their goal - to bring a World Series championship to this great franchise," Samardzija said. "I only hope I can be a part of that someday."

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