One of the greatest wide receivers in Notre Dame Football history has finally earned a spot in the Cubs starting rotation. Thanks in great part to a pre-spring training, one-on-one meeting with new Team President Theo Epstein; Jeff Samardzija (sah-MAR-jee-yah) plotted a diligent course of preparation leading to his eventual promotion as the Cubs No. 3 starter (behind Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza) for 2012. It wasn’t easy. First, he had to choose baseball over football for a pro career path.
Since being drafted by the Cubs in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, the “$10M Bust” as he was first anointed in Chicago, had just five starts in 53 appearances over his first three years. His 1.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 5.95 ERA over 81-2/3 innings were NOT what Cub fans were expecting either. He gradually started to find the strikezone more often while limiting his walks; and added a slider, cutter, and sinker to his blazing 96 MPH fastball. Last season, over 88 innings, he lowered his ERA to 2.97 and struck out 87 batters. Jeff Samardzija, the former college football great, has turned himself into a starting pitcher!
This kind of turnaround for the 6’5” Samardzija has happened before though ….……….but with another sport. During his first two years as a back-up wide receiver at Notre Dame he caught only 24 passes for 327 yards and no touchdowns. Then, talk about a break-out year! In his junior year, he became a consensus 1st team All-American, with 77 catches for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns (still a single-season record for Notre Dame receivers). To prove himself again, he followed that up with 78 catches for 1,017 yards and 12 TDs his senior season in 2006. He finished his Irish career 2nd all-time in career catches, receiving TDs, and yards per catch……and 3rd all-time in receiving yards.
Oh yeah, Jeff Samardzija didn’t have too shabby of a baseball career while he was a Golden Domer either. (He was nicknamed “Shark” by teammate Mark DeRosa, a former Penn QB, who would fling him passes in the outfield before Notre Dame baseball games). A freshman All-American and 1st team All Big East his senior year, he compiled a 21-6 record over 50 appearances (31 starts), with a 3.82 ERA in 240-1/3 innings. Baseball America listed him as the 2nd best athlete among all college prospects (behind Drew Stubbs) for the 2006 MLB Draft. Always an incredibly gifted multi-sport athlete, he never even missed a start during his final three years playing football, basketball, and baseball at Valparaiso (Indiana) High School. Jeff Samardzija has ALWAYS had game(s)!
In his first 2012 start against the Nationals, he picked up an 8-2/3 inning win striking out eight with no walks in the longest outing of his career (110 pitches). Facing the World Champion Cardinals in his second outing, he posted another win, walking only one batter and striking out five in five innings of work. Pitching a matinee against the Marlins earlier this week, Samardzija had a major hiccup in his third outing of the year lasting just 3-2/3 innings and getting the loss. Well, nobody’s perfect. Next on his To-Do List, “Shark” will hopefully be cleaning up his overgrown Tim Lincecum-esk mullet.
Filed under: Pro Baseball
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