Samardzija Pleased with Early Work

DAYTONA BEACH – Every now and then, talent slips through the cracks. It's not like they didn't know it. It's not like that talent was playing baseball in a small high school in an "I've never heard of that place" kind of town.

It was just the simple matter that this particular baseball player was also a football player, and not just any football player at that – an All-American wide receiver in the most prestigious of programs.

His 6-foot-5, 218-pound frame is the perfect wide receiver's body. Tall and athletic, he was the "go-to" receiver in the biggest of moments on the biggest of stages.

Time and time again, they would look for him. And time and time again, he would come through with a leaping, near-impossible catch, his feet landing gracefully in-bounds.

This supreme football talent is Jeff Samardzija, who passed up life on the gridiron for a chance at baseball stardom.

The Chicago Cubs took a chance on the two-sport star from Notre Dame, making Samardzija their fifth-round pick of the 2006 draft.

At that point, however, Samardzija had yet to make up his mind as to which sport he would choose, which scared some teams away. Besides, he still had his senior football season at Notre Dame to look forward to.

It was during that football season when Samardzija made his decision.

"When I knew I had to make a decision," Samardzija says, "I weighed my options to see what I wanted to do and what the best fit was for me, and baseball was."

Brady Quinn, the former Notre Dame quarterback, spoke about Samardzija's decision during a recent appearance in the Cubs' television booth at Wrigley Field on Sunday after his "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" performance.

Quinn was not surprised that Samardzija chose baseball.

"We had the opportunity to talk about that situation throughout the (football) season," he told broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly. "We kind of knew baseball would make an offer that was pretty tough to refuse."

The decision to choose baseball has been a good one so far, as Samardzija has pitched well in limited action. Before rejoining the Notre Dame football team last fall, Samardzija went a combined 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in seven starts with short-season Boise and Class-A Peoria.

This season with Class High-A Daytona, Samardzija has made two starts, allowing three earned runs over 10 innings for an ERA of 2.70.

Samardzija is pleased with how he has pitched.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "Being early in the season, I can't go as deep as I'd like to go in the game (due to) pitch counts, but I feel good. The fastball feels good, and I'm bouncing back from start to start pretty good."

His pitch count is something the Cubs are monitoring at this point.

"It's early in the season," said first-year Daytona skipper Jody Davis. "We're trying to get him ready for the marathon. This is really his first year through a long season."

And Davis' opinion of Samardzija's two starts?

"He's thrown the ball good, but not quite as consistent as we'd like," Davis said. "We want to get him a little more in the strike zone. He threw some pitches last time out there that were close, but he got behind some guys, so we're looking for him to pitch a little more ahead and get deeper in the game."

Samardzija is slated to make his next start on Wednesday night against Vero Beach in what will be his first home start of the season. He understands that throwing more strikes will lead to longer starts.

"Every time I take the mound, I want to go deep into the game and give us the chance to win," Samardzija said. "That's the ultimate goal, to win every time (we) take the field."

It's that winning mentality that made Samardzija a success at Notre Dame both on the baseball diamond and the football field.

And while it appears that Samardzija has moved on from football and no longer wants to talk about it, he admits he will have an eye on this month's NFL draft – especially with Quinn's ever-fluctuating draft status at the center of attention.

In mock drafts, Quinn has gone as high as number two overall, and as low as ninth.

"It's a pretty hectic situation for him," admitted Samardzija, "so I just try to stay out of his hair. I'm just excited to see what happens."

Had Samardzija chosen football over baseball, he most likely would have been a first round pick as well. He has no regrets about walking away from the sport, though.

"I've made my decision," Samardzija said.

So while Quinn's stock continues to rise and fall, for his former teammate, the baseball player Jeff Samardzija, things are only looking up.

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